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Our Relocation Series consists of the most popular destination choices for expatriates to relocate to. We will include all the details you need to know on each country and factors to determine if it would be the perfect fit for you!
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A comprehensive guide for moving to and living in Shanghai
The language most widely spoken in China is Mandarin. In Shanghai, residents also have their own dialect called Wu Chinese. English is not widely spoken or understood in this area.
The Chinese Yuan Renminbi (CNY) is used here. There are ATMs in big cities and towns but China is still largely a cash culture so do not rely on your credit card.
Shanghai has an overall medium risk regarding safety. It is quite safe and non-violent compared to other metropolitan areas, but taking precautions can prevent petty crimes. Beware of pickpockets and purse-snatchers in crowded places and on public transportation. Counterfeit money is a big problem in China in regards to scams. Be cautious of unlicensed taxis and always request a receipt and for them to run their meter when giving you a ride.
For the police call #110, for the ambulance call #120, and for fire call #119. Emergency services in public hospitals are open 24/7 but are often filled to capacity with local residents. In very large facilities, you can find 200 people waiting before you. For expatriates or VIPs, waiting times are shorter due to higher prices. The same applies to private medical centres. The Public Security Bureau has a hotline for foreigners with English speakers if you run into trouble: 02163576666.
China maintains a good health care system and provides quality medical care. In China, traditional Chinese medicine is very common although Western medicine is increasingly being used. Consultations with Chinese general practitioners or specialists only take place at the hospital. Consultation fees vary and can reach $100 USD in private hospitals. Public hospitals are divided into two departments: one for local residents and the other for foreigners and VIPs. Doctors often speak English in the second department. There are many ultra-modern international private facilities for foreigners who can afford it or are covered by health insurance. Prices are higher but the environment is more welcoming and provides international staff. Doctors have the same expertise level as those in public hospitals but consultations are more Western-inspired and tailored to expatriates.
Shanghai experiences a humid, subtropical climate with four distinct seasons in a year. Summers in Shanghai are hot and wet with an average daytime temperature that can reach up to 40°C. Winters are icy and dry with freezing nighttime temperatures of below zero. The rainy season lasts from February to September, July and August are the hottest months, and typhoon season is from May to November affecting the southern and eastern coasts.
There are 5 visa categories in China:
1) Visitor Visa – a.k.a. Fangwen (F) Visa, issued to foreign nationals who are going to Shanghai for research, cultural exchanges, and short-term studies. Valid for six months and can be classified two ways: the single-entry visa, which allows the holder to stay for six months; and the multiple-entry visa, which allows an expat to stay for two months per entry.
2) Work Visa – a renhZi (Z) job/post allows an expat to seek gainful employment in Shanghai. In order to apply for the visa, you must have an invitation letter or work permit processed by a Chinese employer on your behalf. It is only valid for 30 days upon arrival, so once you have arrived you and your employer should apply for a Temporary Residence Permit valid for the duration of your job contract.
3) Student Visa – there are two categories: X1 allows an international student to stay in Shanghai longer than six months; and X2 can be used for the same purpose but is only valid for six months.
4) Spouse & Dependent Visa – relatives or students should apply for the China Private Visit Visa (S).
5) Business Visa – there are two types. The F-type of Non-business Exchange visa is for foreign nationals who are invited to Shanghai for cultural or sports activities, education or non-commercial exchanges purposes and prohibits its holder to work as an employee. The M or Business/Trade Purposes visa allows an expat to engage in gainful business activities.
Shanghai has experienced rapid growth and is one of the fastest-developing countries in the world. It serves as a highly significant trade, financial, and economic centre and is the driving force behind China’s economy. It is also a leader in import and export. Shanghai has three leading industries: financial services, real estate, and retail. The agricultural sector, electronics sector, and biomedicine sector also play a huge role in contributing to the city’s total revenue. The average salary varies based on the expatriate’s position and industry but a foreign assignee receives an annual salary between $25,000 and $100,000 USD. The maximum working hours are 40 per week and there are overtime laws. Income tax is levied from 3 to 45% depending on an individual’s income. Expats who are on a temporary work assignment will only be taxed on the income they earn locally while those who have been in Shanghai for more than five years have to pay tax on all their income both local and offshore.
The Chinese educational system has similarities to the one in the US, divided into the same levels from kindergarten to college. One of the top benefits of the international academic institutions is that they have programs and curricula that allow a student to continue with the same educational background they had in their home country.
Cost of living & housing
The cost of living in Shanghai is considered one of the most expensive in China. Shanghai is also one of the most expensive cities in the world. Accommodation is one of the highest expenditures and takes about 38% of an individual’s monthly income followed by products bought in the market, which take about 31.6%. Shanghai is composed of two main areas: Puxi is the older, traditional side while Pudong is the heart of modernization. The top residential areas where expats relocate to are: Changning District, for its international community; Hongqiao, which is very family friendly; Jing’an District, lively and closer to downtown; and Lujiazui and Jinqiao, close to the financial centre with many facilities for expats. Shortages in the rental market and high real estate prices can affect an expatriate’s search for accommodation. Foreign nationals do not have restrictions when it comes to buying property, but they need to prove that they have been working in the city for a minimum of 12 months and can only own one property, which must be notarized and approved by the local Chinese government. When it comes to renting, a security deposit of two to three months’ rent is needed. Expats must also shoulder the cost of their utilities. Short-term rentals are more expensive compared to long-term agreements, which can be negotiated to a lower price. The price range is around $950 USD per month for a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre and $500 USD outside of the city centre.
There are two international airports you can arrive at. The most basic mode of transportation for newcomers is the taxi, but most drivers do not speak English so have someone write down your destination before riding. The metro is a great system to take you around the city as well as the buses. The train is also inexpensive and comfortable to ride and connects to cities all over the country. Driving is not advisable in Shanghai as there is a significant amount of traffic and the road systems and rules are also quite complex and different from what Westerners are used to. Parking is also scarce and pricey. There are many pedestrians and bicycles to watch out for and local motorists who tend to ignore traffic rules. Expats who want to drive need a Chinese driving license since their International Driver’s Permit will not be honored here.
The largest provider of fixed telephone lines in Shanghai is the Shanghai Telecommunications Company. It also offers mobile, broadband, and bundle packages. A passport and visa must be provided when purchasing a SIM card so always keep those handy when applying for mobile services.
Shanghai is known for the xiaolongbao, which is a steamed bun stuffed with meat inside that’s dipped in red vinegar. Mini wontons in soup are popular as well, along with sweet and sour spare ribs, a dish called drunken chicken (chicken marinated in Chinese liquor) served chilled, and shrimp with colourful vegetables. A lot of the city’s food originated from the Ming and Qing dynasties between 1368 and 1840. Shanghai’s cuisine tends to emphasize the use of condiments and the importance of retaining the original flavours of the raw ingredients.
Things to do
Shanghai is a bustling megalopolis that provides a holistic experience of the past and future. It is a city that perfectly mixes tradition with progress. Shanghai has an impressive list of famous attractions. Two of the iconic sites that must be visited are the Bund and the Oriental Pearl Tower. Ancient temples in the city should be visited as they showcase the city’s well-preserved Chinese culture. The Longhua Temple and the Jing’an Temple are some examples.
While in the country, always purchase sealed bottled water because tap water is not safe to drink. If you’ve moved to Shanghai for work, be sure to learn the Chinese business culture and etiquette to avoid misunderstandings or putting your professional career at stake because of intercultural blunders. The Chinese prefer doing business with those who they can have a trustworthy relationship with. They also pay close attention to seniority so instead of addressing someone as Mr. or Ms., address them by their designation such as Chairman, Director, or Manager. Arriving late is seen as an insult, so always be punctual and always dress in conservative business attire.
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