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Guide to living in Shanghai: How to survive in China’s largest city

By: Michelle Wonderland

Moving to Shanghai or planning a short-term stay in Shanghai?  We spent our summer at That’s Mandarin, a Mandarin-immersion summer camp near Jing ‘An Temple, to learn Chinese in China. Before the trip, we had so many questions on how to set up our lives in China, yet were stumped on the answers. So, I put together this handy, need-to-know guide for expat living in Shanghai the easy way, so that you have everything you need for your move to Shanghai.

Must-have Shanghai apps for expats and English-language websites in Shanghai

Shanghai can be a confusing place without a little help from the experts. Lean on the brain trust of English-language websites City Weekend Shanghai, SmartShanghai, Shanghai Expat, and That’s Shanghai for what you need to know to get you living in Shanghai successfully. Expert tip: The taxi card apps from City Weekend Shanghai (available on Android and iOS) and SmartShanghai (only available on iOS) are lifesavers in helping to communicate with drivers in Chinese by offering Mandarin address listings.

Serviced apartments and short-term leases in Shanghai

We opted for the Former French Concession area, as our Mandarin-language immersion school was located near Jing ‘An Temple and we wanted to live centrally. Because our American Club Singapore membership has a reciprocal membership with the Ambassy Club Shanghai (ranked with one of Shanghai’s Best Pools 2015 and highly sought after for their for summer activities), we stayed on site at Ambassy Court Apartments on Huaihai Middle Road (Huai Hai Zhong Lu). Here are other options for serviced apartments, short-term rentals, and housing in Shanghai:

AirBnb Shanghai – AirBnb China is incredibly easy to use, and I’ve never had a bad experience! Our 3-bedroom flat on Huaihai Middle Road came equipped with balcony and barbeque, modern appliances throughout, oven (not so easy to find in Shanghai), thrice weekly cleaner, Apple TV (we could toggle this to our laptop as well), super fast WiFi, dishwasher, central air conditioning, doorman and was decked out in Scandinavian decor. The location was perfect for Metro (Shanghai Library-Line 10; Changshu Road-Line 1 and Line 7) and the buses to our Mandarin school (Bus 93 and 830).  It was truly the best AirBnb experience we’ve ever had!

Ascott Huai Hai Road Shanghai – A luxury serviced residence, the Ascott also comes with a coveted Huai Hai Zhong Lu address. Serving breakfast daily, other perks include an in-room safe, WiFi Zones throughout the building, an indoor pool, and more. If you book early in advance, you can take advantage of their 20% savings offer.

Shama Shanghai – With four locations throughout Shanghai including Xintiandi, Huashan Road, Century Park and Xujiahui, Shama’s luxury appointment will suit most tastes for those with a larger wallet.

Online grocery shopping and delivery in Shanghai for expats

Quite simply, there’s absolutely NO REASON to go to a grocery store in Shanghai on your own unless you want to inspect the products and produce before buying. Hauling sacks in the summer humidity wasn’t really my thing, so I got keen very quickly to the magic of online shopping for groceries in Shanghai. Here are just a few options for expats who require high food standards and quality:

Fields China – offering same day delivery for orders placed before 5pm and loads of organic food options. In fact, Fields may have the largest range of Western products that I’ve seen in Shanghai. Best perk: Fields carries a range of goodies from Spread the Bagel, my absolute favourite breakfast in Shanghai!

Epermarket – Their Easy Buy option makes shopping a breeze! Epermarket uses fully climate-controlled vans for delivery, ensuring that your food arrives fresh. Payment for your goods is also convenient: Epermarket accepts both cash on delivery as well as international credit cards processed via PayPal.

Kate & Kimi – If it’s locally sourced, organic food that you are looking for, your shop is Kate & Kimi. With the feel-good factor of supporting the local community, this online grocery began with the need of two expats who wanted to change the way food is sourced in China. Psst: Free delivery offered for orders over RMB 200.

Noteworthy mentions: for popular brick-and-mortar grocery shopping in Shanghai, check out City Shop and City Super.

{ Want to learn Chinese in China? Read our story on Mandarin-immersion lessons and Chinese summer camps in Shanghai }

Doctors and hospitals in Shanghai for Westerners

Living in Shanghai with kids in tow means that you will inevitably have to visit the doctor or at least know where the nearest A&E Emergency Room is located. We had this experience during week three of living in Shanghai. It’s best to be prepared before you go so that you don’t have to panic once a high fever sets in.

Global HealthCare 全康医疗 – Expat dental and medical clinics located in Pudong and Puxi. The multilingual staff at GHC speaks Japanese, German, English, French, and of course, Mandarin. Call 5298 6339 for Puxi locations; 6877 5093 for Pudong.

Shanghai United Family Hospital 上海和睦家医院Hospital located in Changning and clinics throughout Shanghai. Call 021 2216 3900 for appointments; Emergency: 021 2216 3999

Parkway Health 百汇医疗 – Locations throughout Shanghai. Call the 24-hour hotline at 021 6445 5999 for bookings and more information.

Food delivery in Shanghai: Meals on wheels!

Although you will be surrounded by gastronomy galore when you move to Shanghai, there will be times when you just want to chill out at home and have delicious food come to you. Here are my go-to places for food-on-the-go in Shanghai.

Sherpa’s Shanghai – At last count, Sherpa’s team of smiling meal couriers deliver deliciousness from 387 restaurants in Shanghai. With a website completely in English, the order process is simple and fast. You can even order wine and beer to be delivered to your doorstep, so you can keep living the life of a couch potato. – For those who have a decent command of Mandarin, check out Tencent’s food delivery site. New users stand a chance to earn a RMB 20 credit for first orders. Fun fact: means ‘are you hungry?’ in Chinese. Clever.

Taxis and private car hire in Shanghai

The ease of calling a car and riding in a taxi in Shanghai is astounding. Forget confusing Metro maps and buses. Use the following booking apps:

Uber Shanghai – A lifesaver when you don’t have your own private driver, using Uber was simple and safe, and I could even link it in with my Singapore account so that I didn’t have to attempt setting up WeChat Wallet or AliPay as a foreigner. Uber’s offerings range from People’s Uber, Uber Black, and the general Uber setting. All drivers were professional and helpful, and my little one absolutely loved chatting with them in Mandarin.

Didi Chuxing (滴滴出行) and Kuadi Dache (快的打车) – Not so easy to use if you’re a foreigner, but Tencent’s entry into the one-off trips/private car service is going to be the most popular car booking service in Shanghai. Lucky for us, we found this how-to guide on how to use Didi and Kuadi for expats!

Using search engines in Shanghai

Sorry Google users, this site is blocked in Shanghai, as are Facebook and Twitter. Unless you’re planning on using a VPN to access these sites, you’d better get used to using Bing for English-language web searches. Also handy: get a WeChat account for those new friends you’ll meet, and get familiar with Weibo’s English language site.


Michelle Wonderland is the Regional Online Editor for Expat Living Singapore, EX Magazine, Expat Living Hong Kong and LIV. A self-proclaimed Tiger Mom, Michelle spent last summer in Shanghai, China so that her six-year-old daughter was enpowered to speak Chinese all summer at a Mandarin language immersion camp, and apply those skills to get them the best deals in the markets. Follow Michelle’s adventures on Instagram and Twitter under the handle #thingstodoinsg and @thingstodoinsg

The opinions for this piece solely originate from the author; the article has not been sponsored or paid for in any way.