A Guide to Visiting or Living in Shanghai

Josh Wilson
Career China Digital Marketing Manager
Jul 31, 2017

Moving to Shanghai gives one the opportunity to live in one of the world’s most exciting and dynamic cities. But like with living in any Chinese city, some things may prove challenging while living in Shanghai as well. For those expats who are thinking about living in Shanghai, or even just visiting Shanghai, here is a comprehensive Shanghai city guide to help you get acquainted with this global city. 

Overview of Shanghai city

Sitting on the middle region of China’s eastern coast, Shanghai is the country’s largest and wealthiest city. The megacity is also a prominent global financial center and a crucial transport hub, particularly in the Asian region. 

Situated in the vast Yangtze River Delta (which is in eastern China), the city sits squarely on the southern edge of the Yangtze River. In fact, the name "Shanghai" translates to "upon the sea."  

Shanghai, together with other Chinese cities such as Beijing, is considered a direct-controlled municipality. With a population of over 24 million people, Shanghai is one of the world’s most populous cities. It is as a key administrative, trading and shipping city, having experienced a booming growth in the 19th century due to its enormous economic potential and favorable location.


The city has been hailed as a "showpiece" of today’s booming Chinese economy. It is renowned world-wide for its unrivalled modernization and a multicultural flair that gives it a unique, charming glamour. 

The city is a blend of Western and Eastern cultures, thanks to its colonial legacy that combines various aspects of the two cultures. The city is also a globally famous travel destination, boasting classic gardens, historic museums and buildings, tranquil water towers and tall skyscrapers. 

Districts of Shanghai 

Administratively, Shanghai is equal to a province (similar to a State in the USA). The province is further divided into county-level districts, which are further sub-divided into sub-districts. Here is an outline of some of Shanghai’s most prominent county-level districts.

Getting In / Out of Shanghai

Transportation in and out of Shanghai is plentiful. At the present moment, you can get to the city either from the adjacent cities such as Nanjing, Suzhou and Hangzhou, as well as other distant cities like Xian, Beijing, Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Here are some of the major transportation options in Shanghai:

Shanghai Transportation (getting around Shanghai)

Transportation within the city is overly considered convenient and satisfactory. The fact that the city itself is an international metropolis with a huge population means that there is the inevitable problem of traffic congestion and overcrowding. Nevertheless, with the city’s modern transportation system and a superb road network, then getting around the city is absolutely no problem at all. Below is an outline of some of the means of transportation you can use to get around Shanghai.

For more information about getting around China, read our full post about all the major types of transportation in China.

Safety: common scams to be aware of in Shanghai

Overly, Shanghai is an extremely safe megacity in regard to violent crime. However, there are some scams and tricks in operation, especially around areas frequented by unsuspecting tourists. Here are some common scams in Shanghai to be aware of.

Climate: Best Time to Visit Shanghai 

The city’s climate is overly mild and moist. It is characterized by 4 distinctive seasons namely - a hot rainy summer, a pleasant warm spring, an overcast cold winter and a comfortable cool autumn. The weather is usually very hot every July and August. January to early February is the coldest season. 

Springtime (from March-May), is generally regarded as the most appropriate time to visit the city. With pleasant autumn weather, then October to November can also be another excellent time to visit the city. Try to avoid July, August and June, thanks to the huge travel crowds present during these months. Besides, the frequent summer showers and the scorching hot weather can make life in Shanghai unbearable during these 3 months.

Top Things to Do in Shanghai for Tourists

Shanghai offers plenty of things to do for tourists. In addition to those activities and sites mentioned above in the "District" section, below are a couple of top things you can do whilst on your visit to this city. 

Life in Shanghai for Expats 

Shanghai has always had an allure for expats, more than any other Chinese city. Foreigners in China who have mastered the expatriate culture find themselves falling in love with this city’s sheer vibrancy. Expats aren’t just attracted to the city by the numerous, lucrative job offers, but they also find a second home in this city. It is far easier for expats to sustain a Western lifestyle here, more than in any other city in China. 

Shanghai isn’t just wealthy, but it is by far China’s safest city. Even though navigating the city may appear like a tall order because of the hectic traffic, it is nevertheless extremely easy for expats to get around Shanghai. Unlike most cities across China and the world by extension, expat communities in this wonderful city are quite welcoming.

 It is actually very easy to make friends with your fellow expat colleagues in this city. Better still; the locals will treat you with lots of respect just like they treat other foreigners. 

Tips for Expats Living in Shanghai 

Though the city is largely perceived as the most westernized Chinese city as well as the most comfortable city for expat workers, there are inevitable challenges that come with living in Shanghai. The single-most challenge of living in this Chinese city is language barrier. This is simply because Mandarin Chinese is far the city’s lingua franca.

 But that notwithstanding, Shanghai remains the best Chinese city for expats. In fact, the kind of the experience expats encounter whilst living here vary from one expat to the other, largely depending on how adequately prepared they are for life in this great, modern city. Here are a number of tips to help you live in Shanghai as an expat.

Popular Events / Festivals in Shanghai

Shanghai Expat Resources 

There are tons of Shanghai resources that are helpful to expats living and working in Shanghai. Below are a couple of Shanghai expat resources to enable you stay in tune with what is happening around the city, and be familiar with it as an expat.

Web Resources for Shanghai Life and Culture

Learning the city’s culture can help you avoid the culture shock that comes with living in Shanghai or any other Chinese city. 

Shanghai Expat Magazines

There are numerous expat magazines that are offered by many bars, restaurants and hotels across the city. Below are a few expat magazines that you will find around Shanghai.

Shanghai Expat Forums 

There are various forums keen on bringing expats in this city together to discuss a wide range of topics. Here are a couple of them. 

Living in Shanghai Is Truly Unlike Anywhere Else

Moving to Shanghai and living there can be a truly fascinating experience for visitors and expats seeking to live in a modern city, yet experience a whole new culture. While there are some challenges you will definitely encounter whilst living and working in this city, especially if you are a first-time visitor, life in Shanghai can be plenty fun and exciting as long as you have adequately prepared yourself for the wonderful life that awaits you in this globally renowned metropolis. 

Have more questions about moving to China? Check out The Ultimate Guide for Moving to China

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