Shanghai, China Report of what it's like to live there - 12/15/14

Personal Experiences from Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China 12/15/14


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

Nope. Cities in Eastern Europe, North/South/Central America, other cities in China.

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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?

US. Depends on the connection usually about 18 hours.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years.

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


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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing varies widely. Most government and expat housing is on the nicer end. Though international teachers and others living more on the local economy certainly end up with more local-like living (small apartments, no washer, never a dryer, no parking) etc. Traffic is HORRENDOUS. Live close to work. Buy an electric bike.

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

It varies widely. Dishwasher soap is EXPENSIVE. Only rich people have dishwashers. Groceries: meat is generally expensive. You can sometimes stock up on pork or chicken when it goes on sale. Vegetables are not too pricey if you buy directly at the wet market (farmer's type market). There is the wholesale market that makes some other items more affordable too (tortillas, cheese, etc.). Or you can buy it all at CityShop which is $$$$.

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

We brought brownie mix and peanut butter. Good choices. Olive oil is a great one ($$$ here).

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

Lots of fast food and decent restaurants. Street food can sometimes be had for as low as 4RMB (6RMB=US$1). However, generally expect to pay 15-25RMB on the low side. The high goes exceptionally high. You aren't thinking high enough.

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

Mosquitoes for part of the year.

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Daily Life:

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

I use either the DPO or the diplomatic pouch. All the standards are here too: China Post, UPS, FedEx, etc.

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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 available. Very pricey. There are domestics with college degrees because it pays better. You are looking at ~US$$5 an hour for full-time. You will also have to pay holidays and the "13th month" bonus. It all really depends on what you can negotiate.

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

Yes. Expensive. Only western wannabes or spoiled rich people use those kinds of facilities. Real estate is very 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?

They work fine when a vendor will take them. They are called "international" credit cards, unless issued by a local bank. Some vendors charge you what it costs them to accept the card.

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

Lots. Every religion I know of has a service here somewhere. I would say no Jedi, but there probably are.

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

In Shanghai, 0; but it will cost you. Knowing even a little Chinese helps in this city.

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

In pretty much any and every Chinese city, anyone with a disability will have problems. Maybe less so in Shanghai, but let's face it: The Chinese are very Darwinian.

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

Yes. yes, they are. Generally speaking. Some regional or farther trains are carrying people infected with TB (which is endemic). So be careful there. Otherwise, no problem. Chinese habits are different. Beware if you can't handle that sort of thing.

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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?

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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?

Yes - so long as you realize that it is only high-speed WITHIN China. Anything outside of China is slow. It doesn't matter what you pay. It varies from about US$30 a month to more than US$100 a month.

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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?

If you want unlimited data - get a U.S. plan from T-Mobile. If you just want limited expensive data, go with CHina Unicom. If you want mostly 2G, expensive data get China Mobile. Everything is still really GSM. So plan on that kind of phone. If you are looking for a good buy, pick up a XiaoMi4 or something like that while you are here.

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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?

Don't have any. Yes, there is some quarantine requirement, but I don't know what it is. There are TONS of dogs in Shanghai. There is vet care and even mobile kennel care.

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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?

Not so much. This is a hard one. The Chinese are really very protective of the labor market.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are some. Mostly with established international groups. Again, the Chinese can be controlling here, though they do still want western groups to do good where possible. Stick with the established groups. They have the connections to stay out of trouble.

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

It depends on what social class you want to travel in. You can definitely tell the difference here.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not too much. China is a fairly safe place for foreigners.

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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?

There is generally high quality medical care here if you take advantage of the Western facilities and faculties. You can find Chinese practice too. Prices tend to be higher.

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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?

Mostly goes from unhealthy to very unhealthy (or worse). The air in Shanghai used to be much better. They hit 700 pm2.5 this past year. A record. While Shanghai doesn't have the same high levels of air pollution, they also don't seem the have the winds that clear it out on a more regular basis.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

The pollution here can trigger allergies. If you have food allergies, be prepared. You probably won't know all of what is in something you are eating.

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

Cold in winter (can snow). Hot in summer (sub-tropics hot). It tends to rain in the first part of the year. Weather patterns have been changing and becoming more erratic. A benefit to Shanghai is that all of the tropical cyclones (hurricanes) seem to dodge around Shanghai (really!).

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Schools & Children:

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

Many, many international schools. Some better than others. Many different educational philosophies. Look for one that matches what you want.

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

Depends on the school. A few schools will (SCIS, Livingston). Many schools will not (YCIS, SAS). Your mileage may vary.

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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?

Yes. They are generally expensive. Most are not what would be considered preschools by western standards. Daycare is probably a better term.

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

There is really only one, outside of the schools. They mostly meet on Sundays. It is US$20 every 1-2 hour practice.

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Expat Life:

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

So huge you will never know them all. Generally good. Everyone has their reasons for being here. Some are dragged along, some did the dragging.

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

Have a party. Go out. See a show. See movie. Explore. You name it, it is here.

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

Of course! It is a giant city. One of the largest in the world. There is something here for EVERYONE (except perhaps those who long for nature).

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

Probably. The Chinese aren't that tolerant of, well, anything that isn't "Han". That said, it is a giant city. There is lots of pretty much everything here.

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

More racial than anything. Religion doesn't come up. Gender isn't so much of an issue unless you are strongly against traditional stereotypes. Race is huge for the Chinese. The darker the skin, the worse it is. That said, you do find more sophisticated opinions here than in many (read: most) Chinese cities.

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

Foreigners are everywhere in Shanghai. To some extent, if you are going to go less noticed in China, this is the city to do it in. All of the normal advantages for shopping, if you take the time to find the right places. It is harder to do than before.

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

Lots of fun and different food places. Huge markets of every sort. Not just malls like the U.S. and Europe. I mean markets for every kind of zipper and button or electronic parts and equipment or etc., etc. Shanghai is so huge that even if everyone shared their secret places, no one would be able to visit them all. There is just so much here.

Salami Sandwiches at CityShop are only 25RMB. That is a steal here.

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

There isn't a lot that is unique. That said there are some great boutiques and you can always have clothes tailored.

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

Lots of chances to get out to the real China. Lots of chances to see theater or large concerts or pretty much anything a large city has to offer (if you are willing to pay).

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10. Can you save money?

Not likely.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

That the air had worsened so much.

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


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

Wanting to save.

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4. But don't forget your:

N95 or N100 mask.

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Tons of movies. None really come to mind. "Purple Butterfly"

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Like most every place, a lot of what you find, you bring with you.

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