What to expect as a Shanghai expat

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Posted by HAOrealty on June 4, 2018

Preparing your relocation to Shanghai

Understanding and anticipating the difficulties of relocating to Shanghai is of paramount importance in making the transition as smooth as possible. Your mental preparation is as important as the school search, orientation, home search, and other services you will receive from HAO Realty.

couple preparing their Shanghai relocation

For many years, the international impression of China, especially in the West, has been that of a hardship posting. Recently, especially in Shanghai, a fully modern city has arisen and with it an expatriate community that is mature and accessible. While some may argue whether or not Shanghai is still a hardship posting, one thing cannot be argued: Shanghai has become a global city with excellent prospects and an exciting, dynamic rate of positive change. The facilities on offer here in most cases are up to international standards and improving at a rate that is almost impossible to fathom.

Without exaggeration – imagine the change in your average Western city over a 10-years span. This is the change in Shanghai on an annual basis. Despite these dramatic changes however, the city still remains a foreign culture and exciting environment for most Westerners.

Being a foreigner in China

China is, in fact, a very friendly place for foreigners. The Chinese people and authorities are actually far more considerate for foreigners, especially Westerners, than they are to their own people.
From a distinctly relocation assignment point of view, there is a particular pitfall that almost sounds too obvious to mention, but is vital nonetheless. It is essential that incoming expatriates do not expect China or Chinese people to act or think the same way that they do, or are used to. Despite the trapping of “the West” in terms of architecture and development, the Chinese have and are an ancient and distinct culture.

China welcoming foreigners. Picture shows chinese woman and foreign man shaking hands.

China is a country of incredible interest and is very conductive to an excellent expatriate lifestyle. Yet, it also suffers from many problems of the developing world. The greatest pitfall anyone could fall into is dwelling on negative aspects rather than on the many positive aspects of life in one of the world’s most vibrant and progressive cities.

There are no particular laws that expatriates must be aware of other than basic legal considerations such as visas and police registration. Expatriates are well looked after by Chinese authorities, especially in Shanghai, and enjoy a rather privileged status. Crimes against foreigners, which are rare in the extreme, are prosecuted particularly vigorously.


The language barrier is by far the largest problem for expatriates living in Shanghai. English, while spoken by a large number of people in Shanghai is not widely spoken. Almost no taxi driver or lower level service personnel will speak any level of English at all. In downtown Shanghai many signs are in English, but do not expect this outside the city centre. Not on purpose, but as a consequence, freedom of movement is highly restricted under these circumstances, although it can be alleviated by proper preparation.

mastering the challenge of relocating to china. Picture shows: man jumping over a cliff

This does not necessarily mean one has to know the language, which remains difficult to learn. It does mean always being prepared, by taking bilingual “taxi cards” to help navigate the city for example, or name cards to often visited locations.

Should you have any questions, concerns, or even fears, feel free to leave a message and we will get back to you to sort things out.

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