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Tips for Expats coming to Shanghai

Tips for Expats coming to Shanghai

You might be planning on coming to Shanghai and only staying for a year to work then move on. Yet it’s so common for many foreigners end up forgetting their original plans and changing their entire lives once they come here.

Shanghai can surprise you.

With countless nicknames and allusions to other famous cities around the globe, you will find this city is different from any other place in the world. Shanghai’s culture is sometimes confusing as a mega city in China, but is an amazing city that is open to newcomers and full of opportunities. It’s always changing, and for good or for bad, it always finds a new way to surprise you. You will find such a mix of culture and identity that you might sometimes even forget you live in China (until you realize you can’t read half of the signs on stores).

With how big and exciting Shanghai is, moving over here can feel overwhelming. Some of the strange nuances to this modern city might shock you if when you first move here.

This is why we have put together a step-one guide on some basic things you’ll want to know about China. Whether you’re coming here for a year by yourself or moving over with your family for a couple of years, we have some basic information that will make your daily life in China more understandable for when you first get here.

1. Setting up your life here

Before anything, be sure that you have a reliable smart phone to organize your time with. Shanghai is a smart city that runs and relies on personal technology to make every day convenient. To help you learn more, here are the basic apps you should have on your phone before coming here so you can get around the city smoothly (without being mistaken for a tourist).



App Icon

App Name




Social media, instant messaging, payment


Banking and money managing app, the second most common personal-digital wallet in China. Has other apps included related to managing your money.


Most popular online shopping app in China. Great for making purchases around China and for offering deals on different items. Primarily in Chinese but easy to navigate.


Most popular ride-sharing app that has more safety protections for passengers. Can find both the Chinese and English version.



Be prepared to scan everything. China is the head of e-commerce in the world, electronic payments have replaced cash in all forms of shopping, to the point where most places only scan. Most tourist centers and large stores will take cash, but if you want to be able to really go to the best shops and secret shopping treasures in Shanghai, be prepared to start paying for everything on your phone.

2. Understand new social media

Most Western social media sites cannot be accessed inside China (you can still browse on Bing and update your Linkedin info though!), so become familiar with China’s own social media platforms. WeChat, the successful child of QQ, is China’s version of Facebook with instant messaging and news feed put together. Even better, you’ll find a lot of instant networking happens through WeChat to the point people ask for it instead of your phone or email.

Other sites and media sharing platforms that are handy to know are:


App Name



Social media site

QQ Music

Music sharing and radio


Streaming site


Streaming site

Video sharing platform

Video sharing platform


Internet browser


3. Understand the metro

Getting around Shanghai can be one of the strangest but most rewarding things you can do because every part of the city is distinctly different from one another. The metro system in Shanghai is so extensive and convenient that it’s one of the best systems in the world (in our opinion). Its lines can connect you to different neighborhoods in Shanghai and the outer suburbs, as well as directly connecting you to several different famous tourist destinations within Shanghai and to both airports, the surrounding railway stations, and the Maglev.

In order to use the metro you have to either buy a single trip ticket or a reusable metro card to keep regularly riding it. If you plan on using the metro at least three to five times a week for round trips, we recommend buying a train card or downloading the Shanghai train card app. If you need help understanding the metro while outside, download the Metroman app. It gives you regular updated information on the current metro lines, how to transfer and how long it will take you to get from one metro station to the next.

If you want to really explore the city though and don’t mind making the extra effort, try riding one of Shanghai’s many public bikes to explore around. There are several kinds of bike sharing apps owned by WeChat and Alibaba (also known as Alipay) that can be found on every side walk in the city. Scanning a bike is simple once you download the app or open the bike sharing app on either WeChat or Alipay. From there, riding around the city is safe, convenient, and stylish on a bright yellow or blue bike.

App Icon

App Name


Metro Man

Metro tracking in Shanghai, good for planning trips. Can be found in English and Chinese.

Hello Bike

Bike sharing app, can be accessed on Alipay. Only Chinese.


Bike sharing app, can be accessed on WeChat. Only Chinese.


Ride sharing app, there is an English and Chinese version.


4. Meet the family groups in Shanghai

Shanghai has a dedicated community foundation that supports expats raising their families abroad. This helpful support system can help you understand some of the more confusing parts of setting up your kids in school or moving to a new house. Lots of family groups set up community fairs, host child-care events and set up family-friendly culture classes to foster community in the city. Since it’s not uncommon to feel stressed as a parent in a new city as well, many groups can even share information about good nannies and child care providers to help you while you set up your new routine.

One of the best community support groups is: Community Center Shanghai (CCS)

5. Understand the diversity of education options for students

China really values education for its society and Shanghai is a great city full of different options for schools. Education for expats can be complicated at first because of all of the options available, but understanding the basics of how the education system is set up can help you start choosing the best school for you and your family.


Education style



International School for Foreign Nationals

Based on Western Model of education, often specified by country. Students in a​​ Shanghai international school​​ like these are assured that they are given standard Western education that will allow them to transition to another Western traditional school with ease.​​ 

IB (International Baccalaureate)​​ 

Western International School of Shanghai (WISS)


Chinese Private Schools​​ 

​​ a.k.a.​​ 

Bilingual Schools

Mixed education that focuses on teaching Chinese and English. Privately funded, these schools do not use the standard Chinese Government Guidelines but do have a focus in Chinese language instruction and math skills. Students are taught a mix of curriculum in a mixed-student setting where the curriculum reflects the education values of both cultures.​​ 


Golden Apple Voluntary Bilingual School​​ 

Public School with International Division.

Chinese curriculum and education standards, these schools are often specially certified by the government to allow foreign nationals to attend while also supporting Western language resources. Admission to these schools are highly competitive as they include high Math, Science and Mandarin standards.


Shanghai High School International Division (SHSID)






6. Become a part of the multiple after school enrichment opportunities in Shanghai.

Whether it’s centered around education, your child’s interest or a special interest shared by your family; Shanghai is full of groups that organize weekend trips and after school events to support the local community. Many of these groups are open to the public and support cross-cultural interaction within the city, so children can interact with a wide variety of kids their age from all different kinds of backgrounds.

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