Expatriates from around the world have flocked to the capital of business in China, majorly drawn by the lucrative job offers. Since the days of Marco Polo to Kublai Khan’s reign, China has had an allure to foreigners, especially in the least Chinese city, Shanghai. Exotic but not exactly alien, modern but with an underlying taste of ancient, Shanghai attracts a plethora of people from all over the world, especially those eying to cash in on the Chinese economic bloom without necessarily stepping away from their comfort zone.

Shanghai has transformed itself in the space of hardly one generation, from a city of decrepit building and narrow lanes when its commerce was greatly crippled by decades of communism, into a futuristic megalopolis of more than 23 million people full of luxury malls and skyscrapers. It’s beyond a doubt China’s financial capital. There are so many Europeans and Americans who initially made Shanghai the “Paris of Asia” back to transform it into the “New York of Asia”.

Most of the foreigners come to Shanghai to make money, with a huge number working in multinational companies which have Asian headquarters in Shanghai. It’s impossible to get such big offers back at home where the economy is sometimes struggling. Others come to study or teach, while others follow their executive wives or husbands. The question that lingers is what makes the expats stay in such a fast-paced, expensive, cosmopolitan city? Or what irks them about Shanghai? Below is a guideline of what it’s like to live in Shanghai.


Things to Do

There is a countless number of things to do while in Shanghai. If you are interested in museums, then there are over 70 museums in Shanghai, including large world-class spaces such as The Science and Technology Museum, the Shanghai Museum, the China Art Museum and the newly refurbished Shanghai Natural History Museum. If history thrills you, then Shanghai has something for you. By walking through the French Concession Area or the former International Settlement, you will be privileged to see the 1920s and 1930s beautiful homes. Strolling through the iconic Bund especially on a sunny day, you will enjoy the beautiful waterfront. Also at the modern high rises of Pudong, there is the Huangpu River.

If you are into nature and hills, then visit Sheshan Hill, Shanghai’s highest peak which is surrounded by Sheshan National Park and the 10 acres Shenshan Botanical Garden. Nearby there is one of the largest Botanical Gardens in the world, Chenshan covering 10 acres. There are also several ancient water towns analogous to Venice with a Chinese flair. There is also an aquarium, a wild animal park, and a zoo. Shanghai has several amusement parks, and Shanghai Disneyland is set to open this year.

For foodies, there is just so much to indulge in while in Shanghai. Being an expat city, the foods range from Chinese and Japanese cuisines to Western and Mexican. There are so many restaurants and bars galore serving you exactly what you want. Shanghai has a heritage of street food because it is a migrant city, thus you can get a taste of all of China just by indulging in Shanghai’s street food which is truly authentic.

Kids have parks, summer camps, and indoor play areas to have some fun. You can also enjoy sports such as Rolex Masters or Shanghai’s Formula one. If interested in learning something new, then you can enjoy some Tai Chi in the park or an international marathon. The Nightlife in Shanghai is top-notch with international clubs and bars analogous to the world standards performing the contemporary music. These spots are majorly flooded by expats are pretty expensive, but the experience in there is anything but Chinese. It is fun, wild and truly happening.

There are also world-class stages for you to enjoy performances such as Chinese Opera, and also movie theaters for you to grab some popcorn and enjoy a movie. There is so much (emphasize on so much) you can do in Shanghai. The list can keep going on and on for that’s how action packed Shanghai is.


There is no disappointment when you get a fully- furnished and serviced apartment or villa which has housecleaning services twice a week. There are numerous amenities and convenience in the housing options. Although most of the housing options are quite expensive, after a busy, chaotic day, your home will be your sweet escape. You can also opt to share a place with others to cut down on expenses.


Shanghai has a lot to offer, but once in a while, you’ll want to get out of town. Travel in Shanghai is made easier by the availability of the four main rail stations that take you to the nearby equally famous destination including Suzhou, Nanjing, and Hangzhou. There is also the high-speed rail that will in only five hours whisk you to Beijing. There is also the option of using any of the two Shanghai international airports to any of the spectacular Chinese destinations or any other 70 international destinations.


Shanghai has infectious energy and spirit. Entrepreneurship in China has never been easy, especially with the meddlesome local governments. But in Shanghai, people are stopping at nothing to make things happen. The street is buzzed-up, and it’s awe-inspiring to see what architecture and innovation have to offer by just seeing the dome of the world’s tallest buildings. The people in Shanghai are moving and shaking, and with so many people doing so much to shape the future of the city, it inspires you to do a little bit more for yourself.

what's it like to live in Shanghai


The US- China bilateral relationship is arguably the most important in the world. Most of the diplomatic work happens in Beijing, but Shanghai is home to the financial work. People come to Shanghai to make money and each day they get more creative and come up with so many other better ways to make money. People are so busy that you might end up never getting some downtime. The workplace in Shanghai is slightly different from the West, thus one should give it a subtle approach. With more and more expats joining the local companies, it’s imperative that they understand the Chinese business and workplace culture to help them comfortably fit in.


Poor Air Quality

With modernization comes some inefficiencies and pollution happens to be one of the undesirable by-products of the wonderful things that have happened in Shanghai in the past few decades. It gets worse as the years goes by but hopefully with China’s investment in green-tech, things are going to get much better.

Internet Access

The Chinese government is micromanaging internet access in China which is quite frustrating. Facebook, Youtube, Google, Gmail, and others are blocked, which are quite useful especially to westerners. The only option that you have is to get a good VPN, learn how to use the Chinese websites or whine in frustration all through your stay in China.


It is quite expensive living in Shanghai and on the Forbes 2014 most expensive cities to live in; it featured at number 10. But then again, Shanghai features in the top ten cities with the most number of millionaires with over 166,000. It also has 23 billionaires and 10,00 multimillionaires. This is such a contributing factor to the high cost of living in Shanghai. But expats come here to make money and do almost the impossible to keep up with the changing times.


what's it like to live in Shanghai

Lack of Privacy

With so many millions of people in Shanghai, privacy is probably not part of the things you get to enjoy in Shanghai. It is so crowded that you get your bags ripped on the subways, you can lose young ones when out so easily, and the crowds are just deafening. The experience can be quite overwhelming that you would wish to stay indoors forever.

As the world becomes smaller, China becomes the last frontier for foreigners. The Middle Kingdom is modernizing fast. Sooner than later it will become the world’s largest economy. This is a land where you can indulge your inner Marco Polo, a place where no matter the day or time, for better or worse it remains an adventure that you want to be part of.

Photo credit: Hans Johnson

Liked this article? Please share on social media 🙂