Relocating to Shanghai

This article is to answer questions from my friends who are planning to relocate to Shanghai from Beijing. Most of the tips only apply to people born and grow up in China, especially north China.

My Own Story to Relocate to Shanghai

Shanghai is an amazing city for local resident, for foreigners who comes from U.S or Europe, but it is definitely a strange and awful city for people from north China. I strongly believe so.

In the first two years I came here (1995 and 1996), I was so frustrated to live in the city. It is not easy to get used to it.

1) The irregular road. In most cities in north China, like Beijing, Xi’an and my home town Luoyang, streets are either N-S or E-W and the street intersections is always 90 degrees, like a chess board. It is totally different here in Shanghai – streets winding through the city and seldom can I find a complete strait road. Later, I found even the newly designed roads in either Pudong Area or in the Jiaotong University Min Hang Campus, were not straight. The design drew two big cycles on the blank area and constructed the campus based on the circles. This was completely unacceptable for me, who came from traditional Chinese cities. Actually, how the road was designed had nothing to do with my daily life, but this kind of unfamiliarity definitely made my home sickness worse.

2) The Smallest Big City. As one drives into Reno, Nevada there is a sign saying, “Reno, the biggest small city in the world”. Shanghai give me the feeling that it is the smallest big city in China. Shanghai was definitely the biggest city in terms of population (Chong Qing is now the biggest in figure), it still seemed so small when I just came here. They call building square, while my concept of square was something like Tian An Men square – the largest square in the world. Roads were narrow, dishes were small on the table, and people were so sensitive to very minor price change. Everything seemed smaller in size compared to cities I lived in.

3) The weather. Shanghai is near the sea and it is hot and dry in summer, cold and rainy in winter. This is completely different. In north China cities, like Luoyang, it is rainy and hot in summer. I didn’t expect rain in winter which made it colder. I never experienced colder winter than Shanghai it may be the north most large city without warming facilities. We kept the windows open for fresh air at night in cold winter since there is no difference when closing the windows. Everything was cold. Keeping the windows closed didn’t help to warm up the wet air inside the room.

4) The people. People in Shanghai were so business oriented and process driven, so I felt cold and hard to fit into the city at the very beginning. I don’t want to talk about it more to keep away from the flaming discussion – it happens everywhere on almost any BBS if someone posts anything about the Shanghainese…

So the famous scenes Huahai road, the Bund and the city were meaningless to me – I felt myself as a tourist, not part of the city at that time. In the deep part of my heart, I was so eager to escape from the city – as soon as possible.

I Get used to Shanghai in One and Half Year

I talked with many friends just came to Shanghai, and I never found anyone love Shanghai in his/her first year. However, after one and half year, I hopelessly fall in love with the city. This happened to many of my friends who original hated the city too.

After several years, I am so used to the city. Whenever I leave the city, I felt very uncomfortable. Here are some examples.

1) The 7×24 Stores. When I was in Chengdu or Beijing, I missed the 7×24 convenient store like LAWSON, Lianghua so much. I wandered on the streets after 11:00 PM and found it was not easy to buy some drink. The city went dark.

2) The bus and taxi. The public service like taxi, bus, gas, electricity… are very good in Shanghai. I believe many people were either impressed by the clean and unified Shanghai taxi or impressed by the dirty and small taxi in many cities. With the effort to prompt public transportation, the air conditioned buses looked very nice and comfortable in Shanghai. This changed a lot during the last eight years. When I just came here, so many people are pushing each other to get on board a crowded bus – it was true but recently, buses are no long crowded with the operation of the metro and light railways.

3) The over-careful people. This was the reason I didn’t like Shanghai – People in Shanghai was so sensitive to the small money. When I used the whole year to get used to this style, I found them easier to deal with. If you take taxi in Shanghai, and the meter shows 141 RMB, you need to pay exactly 141 RMB – including the 1 RMB, or you give them 200 RMB and they give you 59 RMB as change. In Beijing, taxi driver typically will ignore the 1 RMB and only ask for 140 RMB. I am comparing the styles only to point out the difference, without judgment. In fact, the accurate, cold and professional behavior in Shanghai made life easier. Taking the taxi example, the clear agreement between the passenger and driver will cause no argue, while if the price is not accurate, people will be uncomfortable if some driver charges 141 RMB – in which situation, people will say “the drive looks like a Shanghainese…”

Besides these tiny differences, the culture, the buildings, the people and everything are so wonderful, not to mention the bars, the saloons, the theaters and the museums… In conclusion, it will cost you at least one and half year to get used to the city and take longer for you to fall in love with it, if you come from north China.

If you are foreigners new to China, Shanghai will be the city that you can easily get used to, since Shanghai originated from western culture and are more similar with western cities than any other part of China. If you first visit Beijing, the culture shock will be huge. Do you agree?

Suggestions for Relocation

If you change your job and relocate to Shanghai, here are my suggestions:

First, Check my article The Living Cost in Shanghai

In addition, the transportation cost should be about 4 to 6 RMB. Most buses cost 2 RMB (air conditioned) or 1-1.5 RMB. Metro cost 3 RMB (for most trips). Double the price and you get 4 – 6 RMB, which will be 180 RMB per month. If you take taxi, average taxi fee should be 20 RMB (about 6 km).

For apartment, 1000 RMB to 1500 RMB should get a nice apartment for two persons in downtown Shanghai.

For food, Shanghai may be more expensive on food since it is not easy to find cheap food like Beijing – 10 RMB per meal is the bottom line. Typically it costs 15 RMB per meal.

Regarding working time, it is common practice to work from 8:30 to 17:30 or 9:00 to 18:00, including one hour break time. Typically, it is not possible to go back home during the break.

If you concern about Shanghainese – the language, don’t worry. I live here for 8 years without be able to speak Shanghainese and I still feel good and respected. My personal judgment is, people older than 40 with salary less than 1500 RMB tend to speak Shanghainese and hate people from outside Shanghai. For young generation, people with university education or with high income, they are very nice to people from outside Shanghai.

So good luck in Shanghai!

21 thoughts on “Relocating to Shanghai

  1. toufu

    I cannot be used to the irregular road style.When I have a trip out of xi’an,I can just know the “forth,back,left and right”,no one told me E,S,W and N.

  2. Karp

    Can you you give more detail description for this?

    For apartment, 1000 RMB to 1500 RMB should get a nice apartment for two persons in downtown Shanghai.

    How big is it? Studio or One bedroom? In what type of building it would be,old or new? and what kind facilities could be expected, garden and swimming pool? :)

  3. Jian Shuo Wang

    Karp, as I stated at the begining of this article “Most of the tips only apply to people born and grow up in China, especially north China.” It does not apply to foreigners.

    The “nice apartment” does mean “nice”, but the standard of nice is much high for expats than local people – especially my friends who just graduated from university less than 5 years ago.

    The price should be OK for a 50 sq. meter room for two persons. There is no any facilities, no garden, no swiming pool, no security guard, no grass, no elevator. Some may include kitchen, some may only include a rest room.

    For a “nice” apartment with above facility, the rent fee should be 8,000 RMB. You have seen the garden I am living? It may rent for 6500 RMB/month – 98 sq. meter and not in downtown.

  4. Jane

    I returned to shanghai last week. I’m sorry to say this but it’s aweful to live here. Living quality doesn’t only mean what house you can live in and what material you can purchase.

    Shanghai is not missing material but air quality, green land, place to relax, for leisure, and smile and basic courtesy.(drivers never stop for pedestrians) Why people has to be so loud and rude? Why most streets look filthy and people still spit and pee whenever and whereever they want?

    I think Toronto, Boston and some of the European cities I used to live or visited are way better than shanghai.

  5. Jian Shuo Wang

    Well. You are telling one side of the cities. I agrees with you the gap between the cities, but the gap make travel and life so interesting. Otherwise, if Tibet looks same comfortable as eastern cities in China, people will not go for travel…

  6. Jane

    Hi Jian Shuo,

    I am proud of what shanghai has achieved and what this city can provide to people. But there is so much needs to be improved. There might be people prefer shanghai to Boston or Toronto. It’s subjective.

    Tibet has unique culture, tradition and magnificent landscape. I’m really impressed by your pictures of Tibet and Daocheng. I definitely want to visit those places when I can. Tkx.

  7. Spring

    Jianshuo’s article reminds me the smell of Shanghai…Autumn should have come to Shanghai and it is the best season in my memory. As a Shanghainese who grew up and experience the dramastic change during recent 20 years there, I do have a strong and deep feeling to this city.

    As Jane have mentioned, we have so much to be improved such as the air quality, the green land and people’s aggressive attitude. I complained it before when I was living there. But now everything of this city is just so warm to me. You can always find the food you like, you can always feel the warmth in the crowd…As a city of developing country, Shanghai has lots of problems, I wish they could be fixed in the future.

    I agree with jianshuo that the winter of shanghai is humid and cold. People use air-conditioning instead of gas. Sometimes you will feel the tempreture is not even in different rooms because nobody installs airconditioning in bath room.

    Here is some information about the monthly rental of the apartments in downtown area, wish it helps!

    The apartments in downtown area are different from North America and Europe…There are two type of apartments in downtown area. First type of apartments were built decades ago and owned by local shanghainese. After they bought new apartment, they will rent the old one out. Usually the average monthly rental of a two bedroom one bath is between 300USD to 500USD. The one bedroom (or studio) cost around 200USD a month. The only facilities you can expect are bathroom and hopefully a small kitchen. As i know 3 or 4 years ago, foreigners who lives in chinese community were sometimes the focus of people. Now i don’t think so, Shanghaineses have seen too many foreigners in this city.

    The other type of apartments are built by real estate company, they are sold or rent to foreigners because their income are relatively higher than local people. Usually these apartments are in high rise building, like hotels. The monthly rental is between 1000USD to 2000USD. Your neighbor should be rich local people or employees of foreign company. Usually if the monthly rental is above 1500USD, there should be swimming pool, gym, hopefully u can enjoy a small grass land in front of building (the land is so expensive in downtown area, people use all of them to build apartments:-( I guess one bedroom or studio costs around 500USD to 800a month. Actually the rental is pretty close to some areas in America.

    Be careful before you rent the apartment, usually you will need to find an agent. Sometimes they charge the commission from you, sometimes from the landlord. Pay attention to the contract and ask them to bargain the price for you so that you can get a good deal. Remember, this is in China, everything is negotiatable…

    Good luck!

  8. Spring

    Jianshuo’s article reminds me the smell of Shanghai…Autumn should have come to Shanghai and it is the best season in my memory. As a Shanghainese who grew up and experience the dramastic change during recent 20 years there, I do have a strong and deep feeling to this city.

    As Jane have mentioned, we have so much to be improved such as the air quality, the green land and people’s aggressive attitude. I complained it before when I was living there. But now everything of this city is just so warm to me. You can always find the food you like, you can always feel the warmth in the crowd…As a city of developing country, Shanghai has lots of problems, I wish they could be fixed in the future.

    I agree with jianshuo that the winter of shanghai is humid and cold. People use air-conditioning instead of gas. Sometimes you will feel the tempreture is not even in different rooms because nobody installs airconditioning in bath room.

    Here is some information about the monthly rental of the apartments in downtown area, wish it helps!

    The apartments in downtown area are different from North America and Europe…There are two type of apartments in downtown area. First type of apartments were built decades ago and owned by local shanghainese. After they bought new apartment, they will rent the old one out. Usually the average monthly rental of a two bedroom one bath is between 300USD to 500USD. The one bedroom (or studio) cost around 200USD a month. The only facilities you can expect are bathroom and hopefully a small kitchen. As i know 3 or 4 years ago, foreigners who lives in chinese community were sometimes the focus of people. Now i don’t think so, Shanghaineses have seen too many foreigners in this city.

    The other type of apartments are built by real estate company, they are sold or rent to foreigners because their income are relatively higher than local people. Usually these apartments are in high rise building, like hotels. The monthly rental is between 1000USD to 2000USD. Your neighbor should be rich local people or employees of foreign company. Usually if the monthly rental is above 1500USD, there should be swimming pool, gym, hopefully u can enjoy a small grass land in front of building (the land is so expensive in downtown area, people use all of them to build apartments:-( I guess one bedroom or studio costs around 500USD to 800a month. Actually the rental is pretty close to some areas in America.

    Be careful before you rent the apartment, usually you will need to find an agent. Sometimes they charge the commission from you, sometimes from the landlord. Pay attention to the contract and ask them to bargain the price for you so that you can get a good deal. Remember, this is in China, everything is negotiatable…

    Good luck!

  9. Ma Chengze

    Well, I don’t mean any offence, but my cousins from Shanghai visited me a while ago and I thought they had a very nasty smell on their clothes and hair. Perhaps it’s the pollution in Shanghai.

  10. Jian Shuo Wang

    Wow. Ma, I know you didn’t mean any offence. I believe what you told is true. It should not be the pollution in Shanghai – actually I don’t think anyone can bring the smell of polluted air to any where outside the city – it should be something else. :-D

  11. zero

    hi,

    its nice to read your sharings, and there are so many things that remind my working in sh last year. the traffic and weather are really the most difficult part of sh, and so now i m back to my hometown – hk. i wonder if u can still get an apartment with 1-1.5k coz the property rate is so terribly high now. what kind of work r u doing in sh?

  12. Mark Ma

    That’s very nice to read your articles Jiangshuo, thank you very much. I will relocate to Shanghai this October from Shenzhen. Your information gives me a more solid picture of Shanghai. Now I believe that it would be definitely a wonderful place for me to gain totally different experience compare what I have in Shenzhen.

  13. Manoj Sharma

    Hello,

    I would like to get information about Cost of living in Shanghai. As i have been selected for China to live permanently , i wish to know more information about Rent an Apartment and fooding.

    Do we have any Indian socaity?? Where we can search an apartment.

    Please provide me more details.

    Thanks

  14. Gerry

    I may say in my yrs in China i found Shanghai to be a special part of China, what often we say Shanghai doesnt seem China…

    or its a different China.

    Shanghainese, are particular, their language is amazing, and i smile when they called any1 from outside shanghai XIAO NIN, as well dont forget that they used to call the Pudong people Xiao Nin too… :-) i may say that Shanghainese, are much more open mind to developement that people who come from other parts of China and some good freind non Shanghainese who live here from the last 12 yrs agree on this point. North people unfortunatly got more “square” mind….

    the 1500rmb x month nice apt, according to my knowledge, u may get just a room in this shared apt or a very low budget solution in the outskirt fo the metropolis…think already near Lipu bridge the rent of 120 sqmt apt in anew buldign is 3000/2500 per month… of course in the old HQ u still can find some studio a cheap price with low profile rennovation and old furniture..

    as for the language… its not true… i m often with shanghainese around 30s and they all speak shanghainese, of course if a “xiao nin” (without offence) is with them, they being well educated.. switch to mandarin, but its just a matter of courtesy…

    au revoir

    Gerry

  15. karen

    Hi there,

    I am across this blog and find it very informative! I may be relocating from Los Angeles to Shanghai in a few months due to my husband job opportunity and wanted to see if you had any advice in regards to what other websites to look at, books to read to get an understanding about the cost of living, logistics, finances (how to set up a bank account) , any ‘I wish I knew to do these following things before I moved from the U.S to Shanghai’ advice.

    I’m leaving my fulltime job for my husband to pursue his dream and was glad to see that there are some job opportunities for me out there in Shanghai. I’m a business analyst and worked at Accenture, Toyota, and other companies so any advice on job opportunites would be great!!

    Thanks so much!

    Sincerely,

    Karen

  16. Jian Shuo Wang

    Karen, there are some sites, like shanghaiexpats.com and shanghaiist.com that you may be interested. The former’s Shanghai guide, and Lonely Planet guides may also be helpful, but of cause, there is no good guides to help you on daily life yet. I believe you will be very competitive in job market in China, because you have great experience, meanwhile don’t expect to get as much as in U.S. using the U.S. salary standard, since your husband already is able to support the family. Good luck!

  17. Someet

    Is there any indian society in Shanghai. I am relocating to Shanghai, what would be rent of fully furnished 2bhk apartment in indian society.

  18. Jessylol

    I don’t think you do really knwo this city and Shanghainese, your view is not right indeed!

  19. Jian Shuo Wang

    @Jessylol, don’t worry. Just share what you know about Shanghai. No one knows the “whole Shanghai”, and no one is absolutely right to this big city. That is the reason we have this blog. Just join the discussion and share…

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