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Top Ten Tips for Moving & Living in Shanghai

Moving to and living in Shanghai doesn't have to be stressful. Read our top ten tips for a smooth move to Shanghai.

  • Shanghai Lights
Register with the Police

Every foreigner arriving in China must immediately register with the local police. If you are staying in a hotel, they will take care of this for you. Otherwise, simply go to the nearest police station in your neighbourhood, present your passport, along with a photocopy of both your identification and visa pages, and report where you are staying and for how long. Once registered, you receive a form, which is your temporary residence permit. Hold on to this, as you will need it when applying for a longer-term residence permit. If you move into a housing compound, ask if your landlord will take care of this for foreign tenants. Always re-register whenever you change residence in Shanghai. Late registration results in a nominal fine. Failure to register at all could lead to major bureaucratic hassles.


For the first few weeks – even months – it’s a good idea to carry a street and Metro map around. Shanghai is not a grid, and the sporadic maze of alleys, streets, boulevards and freeways is difficult to navigate, even for the city’s seasoned veterans. Morning and evening rush-hour traffic is characterised by dense, aggressive traffic and frequent gridlock. 

Despite the massive size of greater Shanghai, most of the central areas are grouped together and manageable in size. Once inside a neighbourhood, getting around on foot is relatively easy.

Shopping...and Toiletries

On a good day, shopping in Shanghai is a delightful and engaging experience, where one can revel in all of the city’s sensations, discover hidden gems and feel fully immersed in the flow of China’s thriving consumer culture. On a bad day, however, lines and crowds are spirit crushing, bargains are fleeting and it takes far too long to find something simple. Either way, it’s an adventure. And as Shanghai’s consumer infrastructure matures, the good days are becoming far more frequent for expat shoppers. You can find anything in Shanghai, from Christian Dior on Nanjing Lu to Chairman Mao dolls at the Dongtai antique market. 

It is important that you bring over your own toiletries, as these can be hard to find in Shanghai, especially deodorent.


There are several branches of each of the Chinese domestic banks in almost every district of Shanghai, all of which allow foreigners to open either yuan or US dollar accounts. The most common are Bank of China, ICBC, China Merchant’s Bank, Agricultural Bank of China and China Construction Bank. They all offer debit cards, Internet banking and currency exchange services. Many expats choose banks with an international focus, such as Bank of China and ICBC, which both accept the transfer of money to and from your home country. For credit card services and access to funds back home, it is best to keep an international bank account. Banks are generally open from 9am-5pm Monday to Friday, and Saturday mornings. 

Expect long lines at banks. If you want to spend less than 30 minutes for any visit, take a spot near the door before it opens and make a run for the ticket terminal to collect your number. There will be others – particularly on Mondays when weekend earnings are deposited.  

Mobile Phones

The mobile phone market in Shanghai is thriving. It seems that almost everybody from ages 8 to 80 has a mobile phone. They buzz, sing and ring constantly wherever you are in the city – a testament to a clear, functioning network and affordable pay-as-you-go calls. Most mobile phones that are supported by GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) work throughout China, and you might find that Chinese SIM cards will work in your phone. However, if you are moving to Shanghai, it is far more affordable to pick up a local plan as soon as you move here. China Mobile, the nation’s biggest telecommunication service provider, usually recognises two dual frequencies – 900 Hz and 1,800 Hz. Network coverage across China is excellent. If you didn’t bring a compatible phone, a pay-as-you-go mobile phone can be purchased for RMB 600-700 plus the cost of a SIM card. 


There are whole communities based in Shanghai, from expat mums to bike riding and photography groups. Whatever your interest is back home, you can be sure that Shanghai will have a group to match.


In a vast country with varying standards of sanitation and enforcement, Shanghai is known throughout China for serving the cleanest food. Most restaurants and supermarkets, especially those that cater to expats, look and feel sanitary. The longer you are in Shanghai, the more adventurous you can be with eating out. Local inspectors increasingly visit popular restaurants to ensure they are up to standard. Nonetheless, you may have minor digestion problems during the first few weeks. This is normally no cause for alarm, as the body has to adjust to foreign bacteria. The diarrhoea is usually mild and resolves spontaneously and symptoms can usually be controlled with over-the-counter medication. With moderate symptoms, Pepto-Bismol alone may suffice. Alternatively, antidiarrhoeal agents such as diphenoxylate and atropine (Lomotil) or loperamide (Imodium) can be administered. Avoid taking antibiotics unless the problem is severe and persistent.

Finding Housing

Choose your housing carefully. In a city this big, and this sprawling, where you live will dictate your lifestyle. The best way to get a feel for Shanghai's varied residential worlds before signing a lease is to explore the different neighbourhoods. While you’re at it, give potential daily journeys to work or school a trial run. Collect information and perspectives by speaking to property agents that specialise in expatriate housing while asking colleagues and friends about the advantages and disadvantages of their areas.

Finding appropriate housing in Shanghai can be frustrating, as there are pros and cons to every option. The converted lane house in the former French Concession may be close to the action, but it may also be noisy and prone to running out of hot water. Conversely, the expansive suburban villa may leave you and your family feeling isolated from city life. 

Culture Shock

Culture shock is the inability to understand and react to what’s going on around you. For example, the first time you go to the post office or wait in line for a Metro ticket, several people may cut in front of you, perhaps rudely nudging you out of the way in the process. At home, you could simply say “Excuse me” and expect the violator of common etiquette to move aside and wait their turn. However, when it happens in China (and it most certainly will) you may feel totally unable to control the situation.

So what should you do to keep culture shock under control? There are measures you can take to mitigate the negative aspects. 

1) Get to know your immediate locale. You may be in a foreign city, but being familiar with a few neighbourhood restaurants, markets and green areas will at least allow you to feel that you have control over your immediate domain. 

2) Start a journal. This is an invaluable tool. A journal will force you to reflect on your own feelings and consequently get you thinking about ways to control them. It will also be a priceless experience to read it a year later when you’re an old hand in Shanghai. 

3) Sign up for a Chinese class. Knowing even a few phrases right away makes a big difference when speaking to your ayi or the neighborhood shopkeeper. It’s also a good way to meet other expats. 

4) Gain a new perspective. After all, you’re in an entirely new place. Try to be an explorer and see things existentially, learning from a way of life embraced by over 1 billion people. Keep in mind that when Chinese people visit your country, they experience culture shock as well. 

Shanghai Life and Culture Websites 

Interactive expat forum with classifieds, restaurant and bar reviews, events, personals and travel tips.  The classifieds section in this website is relatively well used and can be a useful alternative to purchasing all housing items new upon arrival.  One can expect to find most popular items from Ikea for sale here at a good discount.  This company also offers a discount book at a good value which can be purchased from the site and used for a variety of services in and around Shanghai ranging from golf to shopping, eating and travel. 

Expat-run website with classifieds, restaurant and bar reviews, events, personals and travel tips, as well as interesting articles about life in China and Shanghai. This is the most popular expat website in Shanghai, mostly due to its forums, which are well travelled by resident foreigners and those doing research before arrival.  Post questions you may have about virtually any issue and expect responses from regular visitors to the site. 

Articles on cultural events, restaurant and bar reviews, personals and miscellaneous columns.  If you want to get informed about the party and clubbing scene in Shanghai this is the place to go. The demographics of its users are generally younger but this can also be a useful resource for restaurant reviews for those seeking the hip new places to dine.

The London based monthly magazine is produced in Shanghai and available for free from bars and restaurants. Covers everything from family, health, new bars and restaurants to things to do on a rainy day. 

This site has articles about international politics and culture, along with job and housing listings. This is an interesting site for those looking for informal news and information about Shanghai and China delivered with some wit.

The web extension of the popular oversized city magazine, Shanghai Talk contains articles, events info, blogs and other information useful for both residents and those new to Shanghai. 

Asia expat is a multi-city website that is known for good jobs and property listings.

This is Shanghai’s most comprehensive restaurant, bar and event listings.

Photo: Shanghai Lights by Whiz-ka on Creative Commons 2.0.