A futuristic megalopolis of 23 million people, the undisputed financial capital of China and its most westernised city is packed with luxury malls, impressive skyscrapers and forward-thinking expats. Shanghai boasts efficient transport (it has the longest metro system in the world with fares as low as 30p, or 3 yuan) and cosmopolitan living in a safe environment.
Government figures show the number of expatriates living in Shanghai has risen by 70 per cent in the past decade, from 100,000 in 2005 to nearly 170,000 last year. This isn't surprising, given that professionals are becoming more globally mobile and Shanghai is a worldwide center of finance. In this blink-and-you'll-miss-it hive of activity, lucrative international assignments are in high demand.
As the Chinese economy slows, the mix of expatriates is changing, with fewer coming on generous corporate packages as companies save money by recruiting local talent for senior positions. A growing number of expats in Shanghai are coming independently for work, and it is these people who are most likely to realise the importance of purchasing international health insurance for Shanghai all too late.
In this urban jungle, it can take a while for expats to get used to the clatter of construction, honking of Shanghai’s crazy traffic and loud businessmen on mobiles battling to be heard over the chatter of Chinese grandmothers cooking in lane neighbourhoods. The expat experts at Medibroker have put together a guide for people planning a move.
Read on to find out what potential expats need to know about moving to Shanghai to live and work, including information about education, healthcare and the cost of living in the world's most populous city proper.
According to figures from HSBC last year, almost one fourth of expatriates living in China earn more than $300,000 a year. However, the cost of living in Shanghai is rising and expats are likely to have less disposable income than before.
Shanghai was in the top 10 of the world’s most expensive cities last year, according to Mercer, and is the priciest in China. This is due to an array of factors that give the city its crown as 'The New York of Asia', though it doesn't rank highly on the list of world's most liveable cities.
Imported goods come with a price tag though there are foreign supermarkets and buying fresh vegetables from street vendors saves money on groceries. Alcohol is also more expensive than expats may be used to, although the city does run Happy Hours.
Shanghai expats with children can enjoy cheap domestic help, as a full-time nanny can cost between Rmb3000-Rmb6000 ($490-$980) a month. However, education is expensive and figures show less expats are enrolling their children in international schools. This signals that the cost of living in Shanghai is forcing some professionals to leave their families at home if their relocation package does not cover school fees.
Many professionals find jobs within multinational companies who have Asian headquarters in the city and this makes for a multicultural, modern work environment. However, there will be adjustments in work ethic and etiquette that foreign expats will need to make.
The preference for humble personalities rather than abrasive traits in China mean that expats may have to shift their attitudes to business relationships. There is an emphasis on respect and it's important expats don't make the mistake of believing the city's westernised landscape translates in the office.
Shanghai is very much open for business when it comes to international investors and ideas: it has the largest port in the world and has acted as a gateway for commerce between east and west for decades. International corporations continue to open new offices in the city, and Shanghai rivals Beijing and Hong Kong when it comes to expat jobs.
Mandarin Chinese is still the predominant language despite the influx of expats and learning the basics will earn you respect. Business revolves around relationships.
The city experiences four distinct seasons, with cold and wet winters and hot, humid summers. It's wise to move in Spring, when the weather is most comfortable.
Fees for the majority of international schools are extremely high, because facilities are excellent. If school fees are covered by your relocation package, this is not an issue. However, today this is not always the case.
It’s likely you’ll want to ensure continuity in your child’s education when you relocate to Shanghai, even if you’re only on an international assignment for 12 months. It means re-entering your national school system will be easier and there are a number of schools in Shanghai that will operate on the same system as your child came from.
Most international schools also offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) either alongside or in addition to their national curriculum, and prospective students may have to sit an entrance exam to determine the standard of their prior learning – though schools in Shanghai generally aren’t academically selective.
Most international schools in Shanghai cover the full age range, which means they offer provision from pre-nursery school right up to year 13 (i.e. from two years old up to the age of 18). They are also mixed sex.
Your child is likely to learn some Mandarin, whichever school they attend. They will enjoy cultural celebrations and festivals and be exposed to classmates from up to 100 different countries.
Expats in Shanghai are increasingly sending their children to local schools in Shanghai, either due to financial constraints or a leaning towards cultural immersion.
Read our guide to giving birth abroad.
Western-style healthcare and education are exorbitantly expensive in Shanghai so it's important expats plan ahead for these costs and buy international medical insurance before they go.
The cost of healthcare in Shanghai varies dramatically. Expats who are comfortable enough to use public healthcare often spend in the ball park of 200 RMB for a basic consultation and the required medicine.
For a full medical check-up, patients can pay anything up to 1000 RMB depending on the hospital.
When using private health care, expats often pay over 700 RMB to see a doctor or specialist, plus the additional expense of Western medicines and any additional necessary procedures. A comprehensive physical at a private clinic could cost more than 2,000 RMB.
Living in Shanghai is not without its health issues. The ‘Paris of the East’ suffers with pollution like smog, which makes it all the more important to know you can rely on your medical insurance.
Clothing in larger sizes is hard to find in Shanghai, although the city does have brilliant tailors!
Despite its international connections, Shanghai is still communist China so information is restricted. There’s a limit of 12 imported films per year.
Expect a long commute to work. If you are lucky, you will live in an expat-oriented compound providing you with a shuttle service to international schools or important places. Executive expatriates might have use of a company car with driver but expats generally don’t drive in Shanghai.
Bikes are popular method of transport although cyclists will have to dodge the city's erratic motorists.
China’s ongoing financial liberalisation will benefit Shanghai in its long-term ambitions to be a global financial city to rival New York and London. Continued growth will translate into larger talent and migration flows into Shanghai, plus a higher standard (and therefore cost) of living, making private medical insurance all the more vital.
Finding the right Shanghai health plan can be tricky. So let our experts do all the work!
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