The Concordia Concierge is here to help you and your family transition into living in Shanghai
Moving to a city as dynamic as Shanghai may prove challenging, but as soon as you've settled down and gathered your bearings you'll begin to live in one of the most exciting cities in China. For those who are thinking about living in Shanghai, our Concierge page is here to serve as a resource to make the transition easier. Below are the answers to the most popular questions we've received from the parents and surrounding communities of our school.
- Is English commonly spoken?
- Where do most expatriates live in Shanghai?
- What should I bring from home?
- How safe is Shanghai?
While the average person you pass on the street will most likely not speak English, you can expect to find English-speaking staff in many hotels, banks, restaurants, and boutiques. Additionally, English is spoken in most central neighborhoods and there are many establishments that cater to Westerners, particularly in areas where expats congregate.
Taxi drivers, those serving at local markets and businesses, or neighborhoods outside the city center will not speak much English at all. However, within Shanghai, most are accustomed to dealing with foreigners and have perfected non-verbal communication or use the support of translation apps on smart phones.
Chinese locals understand that Mandarin is a complicated language and as a result are honored when a foreigner tries to learn their language. If you can learn some Mandarin words and phrases before your arrival, it will help your transition to Shanghai go more smoothly and you’ll garner the respect of locals for having put in the effort to learn some of their language
There are several enclaves around Shanghai where most expats live, and in these areas, much of the housing is purpose built for foreigners with kitchens outfitted much like at home. For the adventurous, there are many opportunities to get out and live a bit more like a local. It simply depends on the lifestyle your family wants to live and how much of a commute the working parent is willing to bear. A general rule of thumb that our families have found helpful is to consider the ages and needs of the children when deciding.
For example, families with younger children may wish to live in neighborhoods near the school for ease of arranging play dates. For high school aged children, it is also beneficial to live near the school since their programs often require collaboration and group work with other students or they may be participating in athletics or theatre after school.
Expat housing includes both individual houses, called villas, and apartments blocks with flats, with more modern buildings being constructed all the time. There are certain neighborhoods created for expats and well-off locals. These areas offer everything: playgrounds, tennis courts, health clubs, restaurants, shops, and are often nearby international schools.
Along with several other schools, Concordia International School Shanghai is located in a green leafy area of Pudong called Jinqiao, or green city. Many expats enjoy living here in single-family homes and apartment buildings, exploring the many international restaurants.
Each neighborhood in Shanghai offers a different flavor and level of immersion into Chinese culture. We suggest researching:
- Jinqiao and Century Park
- The French Concession
- Jing’an and Zhongshan Park
- Xintiandi and People’s Square
- Hongqiao and Gubei
Although nearly everything is available for purchase in Shanghai, there are items that you may want to bring. Some items are very expensive, not the brand you prefer, or difficult to find. These items are primarily medical supplies and cosmetics and surprisingly, baking supplies.
There are many large Western-style department and sports stores. You may find clothing and shoes, though the selection is very limited in larger sizes and you’ll find yourself humbled as you try on an extra-large when you would normally wear a medium. Finding quality shoes at reasonable prices is a challenge and if you do find them, they will likely be too small. Things are constantly changing and each year more seems to be available. Quality towels and sheets are becoming more readily available, however, cost will likely be higher and non-metric sizes are not available. Selected English language books/magazines can be found through foreign books stores, and there’s always Amazon.com when you come up short. Stores like IKEA are nearby and make many of the home furnishings you are used to readily accessible. IKEA also offers a delivery and set-up/assembly service for a very reasonable cost.
We asked some of our families, “What do you bring with you in your suitcase when you travel back to Shanghai from your home country?” Every family has their favorites and it might surprise you what people bring in their suitcases!
• “Without a doubt, our suitcases are always filled with sports equipment, gum and multiple bottles of Hidden Valley Ranch”
• “My suitcases are full and always at the weight limited by the airline. I bring organic peanut butter, chocolate, nuts, shoes, clothes. I also bring cosmetic products, fish oils and vitamins for gifts.”
• “We fill our suitcases with over-the-counter medicines like Benadryl. I also bring my son’s Epi pens since we can’t get them here. Oh, and all kinds of cosmetics and toiletries. Did you know you can’t buy deodorant here in the winter?”
• “We bring cereal, cereal, and more cereal. And after my mistake buying tea-flavored toothpaste one time, we now bring all of our toothpaste too! [Laughter]”
• “Actually, I take things TO my home country FROM Shanghai: like Chinese paintings, pearls and jewelry, curtains and bed and table linens, and Crockery and cutlery from hotel equipment mall”
We recommend you bring those items that will make you and your family feel like they are at home. Adjusting to life in a different culture is generally difficult at first and having familiar or sentimental items around is often a comfort.
Many of our families say they feel more safe in Shanghai than in some of their home cities. Neverless, Shanghai is a very big city and it is wise to be vigilant as one would be in any large city.
Westerners rarely experience anything more serious than pick-pocketing or a minor scam and our families and teens move around the city with confidence. As is the case no matter where you live, common sense and basic personal safety measures should be applied
- Where can I get my mobile phone set up?
- Where can I go grocery shopping?
- Which banks are the best for expatriates?
- What can I do about the air quality?
- Where can I find a doctor?
- What is the best way to get around?
Mobile usage in China is higher than almost every other country in the world–everyone has a mobile phone and coverage is excellent, even while the internet is slow because bandwidth is managed.
If you plan to bring a mobile phone from your home country to China be sure that it is unlocked, as unlocking a phone in China can be problematic.
There are two providers: China Mobile and China Unicom and both have shops throughout the city. If you look for a larger shop, you’re more likely to find staff with some English. As a foreigner, you must register your passport with the provider to get a SIM card. You will want to schedule this process soon after arriving since you will need the phone for most everything you will do as you settle.
Service options are vast and include pay-as- you-go to full smart phone packages. If you decide to purchase a phone in China, it will come unlocked.
There are many choices for purchasing food in Shanghai. From local fresh markets to grocery super stores. Many of our families supplement their shopping at one of several specialty import stores in our neighborhood or order online from a grocery site that caters to foreigners and delivers to your home. Whichever you choose, you’ll be able to find almost anything including some imported products from home–just expect to pay more.
The name brands that you’re used to at home may not be readily available, however, global brands often re-package the same product under a different name to make it more appealing to the Asian market.
Once you’re comfortable in your new city, venturing into local markets does not seem as daunting and is often more affordable than other options.
Some of the bigger-name stores to familiarize yourself with include:
- Carrefour (local grocery similar in concept to a Meijer or Walmart Superstore)
- City Shop (several locations)
- Times (in Jinqiao only)
- Pines (several locations)
Online food shopping is also available in Shanghai with services available from some of the stores listed above as well as Fields, Kate&Kimi, Epermarket, and more.
Shanghai is full of banks and financial institutions, some that Westerners are familiar with, such as HSBC. The biggest state-owned banks are Bank of China, China Merchants’ Banks, China Construction Bank, and ICBC.
Generally the company will work with the employee to open accounts at the employer’s bank. Wherever you bank, ATM’s are peppered throughout the city and debit and credit cards are widely accepted. However, smaller merchants at local markets may only accept cash or mobile phone based payment features from Alipay and WeChat.
One thing to note is that there are no joint accounts in China so both parents will need a separate account. Again, these are usually set up by the company when settling the employee.
It’s important to understand the Air Quality Index (AQI) and monitor it in your home and the other environments your family spends time in. There are apps you can download to help with this.
The AQI fluctuates daily if not several times in a day depending on weather conditions. A level above 150 is considered unhealthy, particularly for children and people with respiratory issues. On higher-level days, it’s best to keep doors and windows closed and limit outdoor activities.
Generally, office and school environments are some of the cleanest places to be on bad air days because of the investment in air filtration systems.
Shanghai has exceptional and advanced medical facilities. The two best options for expats to access them are via a local hospital with foreigner wings or through a private provider. Your expat package should include medical insurance that covers the use of these facilities.
The international wings of the local hospital is an excellent, affordable option. You’ll receive care using state-of-the-art equipment in nice surrounding from doctors that are able to speak English. You’ll also avoid over-crowded waiting rooms of the local wings.
Private providers are definitely the best approach if your insurance package covers the cost. You can expect fees that are two to five times the amount of local hospitals and will rise quickly if you require serious treatment. However, you won’t find better health care anywhere else in the world.
There are also pharmacies everywhere in the city that offer almost everything available in North America plus more. In fact, many drugs that are prescription only in Western countries are available over the counter in China.
There is also easy access to North American trained dentists and orthodontists. And of course, Traditional Chinese Medicine is readily available.
Note: the Shanghai version of 911 is 120. You’ll be taken to the nearest hospital as opposed to the one of your choice. They’re unlikely to speak English so you’ll need to know some basic phrases and your address. It is often better to get a cab or use your driver so you can choose a hospital where you can get services in English.
Shanghai is a massive city with many cars and a seeming unconcern for the pedestrian walk sign. In actuality, it is the style of driving that allows a free right turn at any time despite the pedestrian sign being green. Although this is slowly changing as the government attempts to retrain the drivers, a good rule of thumb is to say that a green walk sign means that it is okay to attempt walking, but be on guard for turning vehicles.
Most areas frequented by expats are grouped together and manageable; getting around those neighborhoods on foot or by taxi is fairly easy Taxi is generally an inexpensive and efficient way for families to get around and most are honest and abide by the meter.
There is also an extensive underground system, the Shanghai Metro, which is clean, safe, and often faster when traffic on the streets is at a standstill. That being said, if you travel during rush hour, you’ll need to be prepared for a very tight ride as the crowds push onto the trains, to head to or from work. Signs throughout the stations also have English, making is easier to navigate your journey.
- What communities and organizations can I join?
- Where can I go to spend time with my family?
- How do I find the right school for my child?
- What sports can my kids play at an international school?
There are many ways to get involved in your community, both at Concordia itself and within Pudong. From volunteer organizations to sports leagues, you’ll form connections and build relationships with like-minded people.
For families moving to Shanghai, the Community Center Shanghai is a great place to start with their free Shanghai 123 program. Check out http://communitycenter.cn/shanghai123. There are also many learning opportunities where you can immerse yourself in Chinese culture including cooking classes, dance studios, and Kung Fu clubs.
International education standards vary from school to school in Shanghai. As a Westerner, you’ll want to look for schools that offer an education platform that is transferable back to your next destination, whether your home country or another international school.
As a family, you are spoiled for choice in Shanghai. From IB to AP and French to Korean, you have many different school options. Concordia is the only fully American curriculum school in Shanghai. Additionally there are other school who blend IB with American or British curriculum, or offer only the IB or National British curriculum. All of the international schools undergo rigorous quality assurance approval processes for accreditation and are re-inspected at regular intervals to ensure standards remain high.
Most importantly, you’ll want to find a school where you child is safe, happy, and is receiving a great education. Look for an international school that places a high value on helping the entire family transition into their new school community.
The sports offered at international schools vary from school to school. However, a good rule of thumb is if it is played in your country, it’s likely offered in Shanghai. From American football to basketball, or swimming to dance, your child will have plenty of choices for athletics, if not at school, then as part of a club team.
The sport facilities at most international school campuses are what North Americans would consider to be of university-level quality. Gyms stocked with high-quality equipment, climbing walls, and immaculate outdoor fields are just a few of the highlights.
And the best part for families who live in the neighborhood is that schools make their facilities available to the entire family and not just the student attending the school.
Do you have other questions about moving to Shanghai?
When you arrive in Shanghai you’ll discover an engaging and supportive community to help you adjust to your new home. In the meantime, fill out the question form below and let us provide answers that will help put your mind at ease!