Living In Shanghai As A Foreigner – Hey guys! Welcome to Living Abroad, a new series that explores what life is like for expats in cities around the world. Next: Samantha, a teacher who has lived as an expat in Shanghai for four years. Here he shares expat life in Shanghai, from soup dumplings to the importance of a good VPN.
If you are considering moving to Shanghai, I think you will really enjoy hearing about her experience living in Shanghai as an American. To be honest, living as an expat in Shanghai sounds pretty amazing – just imagine all the travel opportunities in Asia (and all the Shanghai noodles you could eat!)
Living In Shanghai As A Foreigner
My name is Samantha and I grew up in Northern Virginia. I moved to Shanghai alone, but now I have a great network of friends and colleagues!
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About working in Shanghai as an expat: I work as a teacher in an international school in Shanghai. Being a certified teacher from an English-speaking country, finding a teaching job here was quite easy.
I used Search Associates to find a teaching job abroad and Shanghai, China seemed like the best choice for me. After four years with no plans to leave, I would say that becoming an expat in Shanghai was the right choice!
First impressions of Shanghai: Shanghai is definitely different from anywhere I’ve been, even in Asia. It is very modern, crowded and full of life. I didn’t expect to see so many expat faces on the street or so many western shops and restaurants. Starbucks is here on every corner and TGI Fridays is right next to my school. I didn’t expect anything like that!
Regarding the culture shock: In Shanghai, it is very common to “empty the qi” when needed. This means spitting, burping, etc. whenever you feel like it, even if you’re in a crowded subway. I’m still not quite used to it.
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On making friends: Since I was working as a teacher in an international school, I had the chance to meet many other expats and locals, I immediately found a photography group, joined a gym and started going on day trips with some local businesses. I am lucky that many of my friends are still in Shanghai.
Meeting other Americans in Shanghai: To meet other Americans, I recommend joining Facebook expat groups (such as Shanghai Expats or EXPATS in Shanghai) and introducing yourself as much as possible. Shanghai’s expat community is pretty incredible – you’re sure to meet some very interesting expats!
Transportation: Shanghai has an amazing public transportation system. I use the subway a lot because it’s convenient and very cheap. We also have a great bike sharing system here.
When the weather is nice, walking is my favorite form of exercise. There are always new shops or galleries opening up to explore, and these new places are much easier to spot if you’re on foot.
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Traffic in Shanghai: Traffic is quite bad, especially during rush hours. It doesn’t help that the city driving is a little crazy.
Chinese food: Real Chinese food is amazing. It’s so different from the General Tso’s chicken you might get in the states. The food from Sichuan and Yunnan province is out of this world. Unfortunately, I don’t love Shanghainese food, with one big exception: Xiaolongbao. These are soup filled pork dumplings that are AMAZING.
About International Dining: We have chains like TGI Friday’s and Hooters (yes, Hooters), but we also have many international restaurants. There are Japanese restaurants, Korean restaurants, Italian restaurants, Lebanese restaurants… the list goes on. One of my favorite restaurants here is owned by a French couple. They have the most amazing wine and cheese!
In response to the question “Is Shanghai safe?”: Living in Shanghai makes you feel extremely safe; it’s the safest place I’ve ever lived. I lock my door and stay alert when I’m on the crowded subway, but crime is rare here. I once dropped my cell phone on the way home from a night out and someone sold it to the police and I got it back! [
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On the cost of living in Shanghai: Shanghai is great because it can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. Rent in a good neighborhood can be expensive, but it’s cheaper than somewhere like New York.
About learning Mandarin: In my first year in Shanghai, I took Mandarin classes, but it’s not easy to learn. You still need the basics to get around Shanghai; most locals don’t speak English, but you can get by without it.
On living in China without speaking Chinese: You can get by without knowing Chinese in Shanghai. Most western bars and restaurants have English-speaking staff, and all street signs and subways are also in English.
But I still recommend learning Mandarin to communicate more authentically with the locals. A simple “xie xie” [thank you] goes a long way!
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Great neighborhoods for expats: I live in the former French Concession. This is a great neighborhood for young people, singles or even families. There are many shops, bars, restaurants and activities around. I love it because there are also lots of small neighborhood parks and all our streets are lined with trees that you won’t find anywhere else in the city.
Jing’an area is also very fun and similar to the former French Concession. Pudong, or New Area, is another great neighborhood. It is newer, with more modern and spacious apartments and is particularly popular with families.
About travel options: There are always cheap flights from Shanghai; I have been all over China as well as Hong Kong, Tibet and Southeast Asia. My favorite places in China are Zhangjiajie (“Avatar” mountains) and Guilin (a city in southern China with dramatic limestone karsts).
Best part of living in Shanghai as a foreigner: I love that Shanghai is always changing. There’s always a new neighborhood to explore, an exciting event in town, or new bars and restaurants opening up. It’s pretty hard to get bored living in Shanghai.
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Advice for new expats in Shanghai: Use the experience. There is so much to see and do in the city, so just go with it. Also get a good VPN [virtual private network]. You want to access blocked websites like Netflix, Instagram and Facebook.
But you? Is this how you imagined life as an expat in Shanghai? Does living in Shanghai appeal to you?
P.S. The real truth about dating as an expat and what it’s really like to live as an expat in Singapore.
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Hi! I’m Ashley. Ashley Abroad began as a chronicle of the year I spent working as an au pair in Paris. Seven years later, the site has become a resource for travelers who enjoy culture, history, food and the occasional outdoor adventure.
Find historic destinations, thoughtful itineraries and sophisticated city guides on this site. Read more on my About Me page. Shanghai is one of the most populated cities in the world. It is a global city and a major financial center that attracts expats from all over the world.
In this series of Ask an Expat, I interview people who live anywhere in the world but outside their own country. I try to give an honest picture of the ups and downs of life abroad, share advice for anyone thinking of moving abroad and information on what to see and do in the city, town or country where an expat lives.
“I graduated from university a few years ago and after working in this field for a while I fell in love with it and wanted a new adventure.
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So I saved up and decided to try teaching in China for a year because I had visited China twice before and loved it!
My first trip to China was a week-long college trip to Beijing, and it really made me interested in learning more about Chinese culture and language.
From there I thought I could get a job in the music industry in China, but after talking to a few professionals I realized I needed a pretty good understanding of Mandarin to get where I wanted to go.
So I started looking for ways to get to China because I thought the best way to learn the language would be to immerse myself in it!
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“Actually, I went to Shanghai and tried life in Shanghai for two months as an intern, a kind of ‘test drive’ before signing a one-year teaching contract. And I just loved living in Shanghai.
As one of the largest cities in the world, it can be extremely intense, but that also means endless opportunities.
For me personally, an extremely fair, red-haired British girl I
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