2022 Expat guide to Shanghai
Being a foreigner living in a country where you have difficulties in culture, language, food, entertainment and general living can be challenging. As a child of diplomatic and military family constantly uprooted living in different countries and cities, and as an adult traversing the world in my chosen business over the past 35 years has given me lots of experience in how to deal with this.
First, remember it’s generally about the unique adventure of doing something less than 1% of your friends would ever agree to. If you remember that it’s an adventure (even after 2 decades in my case), then it makes life interesting and little things fulfilling.
With that said, I provide an intentionally short, direct to the point guide for newbie Shanghai expats:
The Shanghai Expat Essentials
❗️The most critical 1st step.
This is the #1 most critical thing for any expat (and for ALL Chinese too). If you have not setup your WeChat, on ALL your devices, phone and computer primarily, and added you local bank account to enable WeChat pay, do it now. WeChat will handle the majority of your translation and likely 95% of all your payments. (the other 5% of payments with AliPay). Before reading anything else, install and setup.
❓Deal with the language and interpretation.
It’s easier than you think… Baidu Translation becomes your must have favorite website, followed closely by their Baidu Translation App on iOS devices. You will quickly become and expert at copy & paste functions.
🌐 Forget the VPN’s
They are not only mostly all illegal, but most fraught with connectivity challenges based on a myriad of things, including a complex combination of your specific building classification (foreigner residential, Chinese residential, mixed-use commercial residential etc..), PLUS the location and age of the local “node”, PLUS the district you are in, PLUS the online service provider, PLUS who signed up for the account with which passport or Chinese ID, PLUS your phone number, PLUS the city and of course PLUS being within the Great FireWall of China. Instead, consider newer technologies such as ShadowSocks.
🛒 Shop for your favorite things, in English….
Epermarket or Kate & Kimi or Breakfast Champion or TimesGrocery on WeChat (or web) for groceries, or on your computer, use Google Chrome or Safari browsers on MacOS Big Sur to shop for anything and everything using automatically translated pages on TaoBao.com, JD.com by learning how to effectively search (using brand name, model number, or a translated keyword of the product you are looking for).
🍔 Home Food Delivery Meals
Stay lazy at home and order delivery in English from foreign-style, or Chinese, restaurants easily using Sherpas or JinShiSong JSS via web & app or McDonald’s (web only). If you want a million other restaurants to choose from, master your basic Chinese, and order by photo from ele.me (app)
🚖 Getting around, forget hailing a taxi.
Until you build up the courage to use a bus or subway train, there is an 85% chance you will not be able to hail a taxi on a street in Puxi within an hour, so consider the cheaper than a taxi, DiDi — fully in English, to make it super easy, where you have a huge variety of options or car types, prices and drop off instructions, all in English, including a simulates translation system with your driver. It’s like UBER, but on steroids.
👥 Meet other expats:
Join various social clubs such as BritsAbroad🇬🇧 (particularly if you are female and looking for closed social circle of women) or ACshanghai🇺🇸 (very affordable), or if you are a business entity consider any of the many Chambers of Commerce such as BritCham🇬🇧, AusCham🇦🇺, AmCham🇺🇸 or if you are under 28 years old, CanCham🇨🇦 … or volunteer with foreign led (legal) charities such as Heart to Heart… or visit any of the thousands of Shanghai bars — including a very large LGBT scene🏳️🌈.
📃 The Directories and Guides to Restaurants, Bars & Events
There are many guides, many outdated, some good. I suggest starting with Smart Shanghai or Time Out Shanghai — both very useful for copy and paste of addresses into WeChat or Didi to meet new friends.
👍🏻 When all else fails…
Once you have ShadowSocks installed and working on your computer and iPhone, Facebook is the big daddy of many Shanghai expat groups — and while there are way too many “Karens” spouting uneducated and stupid advice, by sifting through the morass, you can find some member only groups that can be a tad more sensible and offer smidgens of practical specific advice.