Welcome to Shanghai!

By: Christine Draeger

Shanghai has been called the "Paris of the East" and the "Queen of the Orient." Rich with history, Shanghai first opened its door to foreigners for trade in the 1840's. The resulting international community contributed to Shanghai's unique character, architecture, fashion and food. The Japanese invasion of 1937 forced most of the foreigners to flee the city and it would be 50 years before international influences would return to this alluring metropolis.

Today Shanghai is China's most cosmopolitan city and is regarded as the economic powerhouse of mainland China. Shanghai will be hosting the World Trade Expo in 2010, which will showcase famous landmarks such as the Pearl Tower, the world's tallest hotel and the world's longest arch bridge.

Initially, most newcomers are struck by the city's vastness, the pace of development, the population density and the chaos and energy of the city. There is a feeling that Shanghai is a city on the move, developing at a fast pace. It is more modern than imagined. Skyscrapers stand in stark contrast next to old communist dwellings, giving the city a sense of time and change.

The look and feel of the city can be quite deceptive. Many things do not get done as quickly or work as reliably as in a western country. The "bright lights, big city" image of Shanghai tends to give a much better surface impression than the reality of daily life. However, Shanghai is constantly changing and improving its modern facilities. Western interests are catered to more and more.

Natives to the city speak Shanghainese, the local dialect. Everyone understands and nearly all speak standard Mandarin - as required by the government for state employees. English competency is probably the best in mainland China. The employees in most hotels speak English very well. Most other non-English speakers such as taxi drivers are getting used to visitors, but most are still only able to understand "yes," "no," "hello" and "good-bye." Learning a few key Mandarin phrases definitely helps.

To obtain an "L," "F" or "Z" Visa, a transferee must provide a copy of his/her passport, ten passport-sized photographs and a copy of his/her resume. If accompanied by a spouse, a copy of the marriage certificate needs to be provided. If accompanied by children, a copy of each child's birth certificate needs to be provided. For de-facto spouses, a visit to the local consulate is necessary to obtain a relationship certificate so that the non-working partner may apply for a residence visa. Spouses are not allowed to work with a visitor's visa. However, if they find a job, they can apply for a work permit before starting the job. Teaching English is an occupation that is high in demand and little or no experience is required.

Cash is the most common form of payment used although larger supermarket chains and upscale stores will accept local ATM/debit cards. Hotels catering to foreigners will accept international credit cards. Restaurants and major shopping chains often accept credit cards as well, but it is still advisable to keep cash on hand at all times.

Shanghai is divided by the Huangpu River. To the west of the river is Puxi and includes the Luwan, Changning, Xujiahui, Hongqiao and Minhang districts. The latter two are the most popular living areas for expats with children due to a good supply of housing compounds and community facilities. These areas are also closer to international schools with campuses in Puxi.

To the east of the river is Pudong. The suburban districts (Jinqiao, Kangqiao, Nanhui) in this area are newer than Hongqiao and due to the ever increasing presence of companies in this part of the city; many spacious housing compound and schools as well as community facilities are available. Inner city living (Luwan in Puxi and Lujiazui in Pudong) is usually a popular choice for most couples or singles allowing them close proximity to shops, restaurants and nightlife.

Almost all expats rent their homes. If budgets allow, it is better to rent from a developer. Private landlords can be unreliable by comparison. If you're from the US, UK or Australia, the housing you'll find will often not be of the quality you're used to.

It's advisable to finalize permanent accommodation two months before the actual relocation. Most landlords are not willing to wait more than two months before actual lease start date. They would prefer to rent out to another tenant who can begin the lease earlier. Before signing the lease agreement, do ensure that all agreed-to additional requirements (including accurate furniture list) have been accounted for. It's next to impossible to ask for anything after lease has been signed.

Shanghai is regarded as a safe city. You are unlikely to hear about or experience violent crime. However, just to be safe, most housing compounds for expats are guarded. The most common form of crime in Shanghai is pickpocketing in crowded places.

Expats tend to send their children to one of the many international schools in Shanghai. Compared to other countries, the international schools in Shanghai are relatively young. Nevertheless, these schools are first-rate with very qualified teachers. For those with children under 10 years of age, spaces are at a premium. It is recommended that you submit your child's application as early as possible. School typically starts during the last week of August or the first week of September. The school year ends in mid- to late June.

Driving your own vehicle is not necessary. In fact, driving in Shanghai is rather difficult and dangerous - as the roads are packed with aggressive drivers. If you already have a driver's license from your home country, you can obtain a Chinese driver's license by taking a series of tests (which do not actually involve driving).

An alternative is the Metro (subway system), which is clean, fast and well-run. Since crossing the river by car can leave you stuck in traffic jams, the Metro is a good way of avoiding this - especially if taxis are scarce (when it's raining and during rush hours, for example). Expats should be wary of traffic conditions-especially during the first few weeks of the assignment. When walking, driving, or riding a bicycle, it is important to never assume that someone has seen you and will take action to avoid colliding with you.

Most expats are put off by the crowded nature of public transport and the fact that many passengers tend to push. Taxis, therefore, are the overall favorite for expats. Fortunately, they are relatively inexpensive and make it easy to get around.

While on assignment in Shanghai, it would be advisable to steer clear of talking about certain political issues. When handing over a name card, do so using both hands at the same time. This is a sign of respect. If you find yourself in a conflict situation, a better way to get what you want is not to raise your voice but to calmly persist. Local residents tend to react to another's anger equally or more strongly. Loud voices are used quite frequently and often what sounds like an argument is just a lively discussion - for example, when bargaining for goods at a local market.

Relative to other parts of mainland China, Shanghai is known for having the most liberal and forward-thinking residents. They welcome foreigners living in their city and are eager to learn more about international cultures. Shanghaineses are also renowned for their business acumen and their negotiating skills. They are quite western in their fashion, pursuit of material items and monumental drive for success.

Chris Draeger, Group Vice President, Crown Relocations

Crown Relocations has been providing international moving and relocation services since 1965. With 200 offices in 50 countries, Crown has "people on the ground" in all the major Expat communities around the world. Crown provides a range of services to help Expats and their families move and settle into their new home ranging from Orientation Tours, Home finding, School Search and more. Crown also organizes Expat Clubs with regular events to help people meet and socialize with other Expats.

We also serve corporate clients as they develop and manage the relocation policies and employee benefit programs for the staff moving overseas. Services include expense management, program development, policy counseling, customized online reporting and full departure and destination services for the employees.

Crown is a private organization headquartered in Hong Kong, with European HQ in London and Americas HQ in Los Angeles California.

Crown provides free moving quotations on its website at and

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