I have been living in Shanghai since September 2013 and below I will share my positive and not so great experiences here from a foreign perspective.
- Ease of living: Shanghai is great! You can get everywhere easily, shops are open 24 hours and the shopping malls have long hours, a lot of people speak English compared to the rest of the country, you can buy things online, you can go everywhere.
- Superb transportation: metro, taxi, buses, shared bikes, didi or Uber (the first owns the second in China), e-bikes (you need to own one), 2 airports, 5 train stations (the first 5 that come to my mind are Central station, HongQiao, SongJiang, South, West), illegal black cars (if you are brave or desperate or no alternative available). I feel Shanghai has one of the best transportation systems in the world and it is great to move around.
- Smartphones: you can do everything (almost) with your smartphone in Shanghai. Just download WeChat (Tencent) and Alipay (Alibaba), connect them to your bank cards and start enjoying it. You can pay everywhere with them, you can order taxis, read the most recent news, pay the bills, order taxis/vans/buses, order food and get delivered it everywhere you want, buy holiday trips, etc. There are so many things available you can do by just accessing these 2 apps and all their affiliates.
- Food: the different provinces of China, Italian, French, Japanese, Korean, Singaporean, American, English, Russian, Spanish, Argentinian, Thai, Indonesian, Malay, etc. Salty, sweet, sour, spicy, barbecue, soups, fried, seasoned, etc. The food options are so different and varied that you can get lost and the prices are overwhelming. You can find everything based on how much you want to pay. 3 Michelin stars to the street food. You pick your choice.
- Coffee culture: coffee is growing by leaps and bounds in Shanghai. Before it was only the big chains (Starbucks, Costa, Pacific, Dunkin and so on), but now there are plenty of small and private coffee shops that offer great coffee and awesome experiences. They are located everywhere in Shanghai (from the top shopping malls, to the small alleys typical of Shanghai). The prices are somewhat pricey (5/7 Euro/USD for a coffee is weird for me as an Italian), but the variety and the quality can make up a bit for the price you pay. Or you can skip the pricey ones and go to the small shops.
- English: a lot of foreigners come to Shanghai because it is easier to communicate with the locals and there are also a lot of international businesses. So it has become a positive circle for the internationals and the Chinese alike. But get out of the main areas (HuaiHai rd, Nanjing W/E rd, LJZ, University areas, some areas around the international schools and the big companies or tech parks) and you will feel a lot like being outside of Shanghai because no one speaks English there. Some districts have only Chinese so if you want to improve your Mandarin / Shanghainese skills (and save a lot of money) consider living in certain suburbs (Minhang and SongJiang have plenty of cheap estates).
- Clean and safe: Shanghai is very safe (police is everywhere and cameras as well) and there a lot of cleaners who will sweep the city over and over.
- Skyscrapers: this is a personal favorite, because you can go to almost all of them and the view can be awesome (when there is no smog).
- Change! Shanghai is changing all the time, you will never know what would come into your life when you wake up the next day, maybe a new cellphone app, maybe a new convenient service, even a new construction, metro… (During my first 12 months I stayed in the same apartment, but the street to the closest metro stop changed 3/4 of the shops). If a shop does not work, within 6 months it will be scrapped and a new entrant will be ready to propose something different.
- Mix. Shanghai is a mix. No doubt, you will see a lot of high-rise building there, but meanwhile you still can find many historical buildings, telling the history of shanghai and showing you the authentic of Shanghai
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- Smog: a lot during the winter. Hopefully there will be more and more big international events to increase the clean days.
- Queue: get ready for some people to jump the queue
- Food safety: you can never be safe about food in China, because some bad apples will try to circumvent the rules to make more money (like in every country, but here things get amplified way more due to the large amount of people) (things are improving lately)
- Smoking: smoking everywhere. March 2017 should be a turning point with more restrictive rules / laws, but as usual it is all about the application and enforcement of them. Hopefully they will do.
- Update: the change was big at the beginning of March, but it has slowly worn out and now you can still find people smoking in places where they should not. Way better than 2 months ago, but way to go.
- Rising cost of real estate: it is abused by some companies and it pushes all the other prices up. They are trying to cool the effects a bit with some rules (some months ago locals were divorcing to buy more houses for example), but still not enough.
- Fun article I read this month: one real estate agent had married and divorced 3 times to help WaiDiRen to get a house in Shanghai (WaiDiRen are Chinese that do not have a local residence permit for Shanghai; you need 5 years to apply for it). If you have the local license (Hukou?) you can buy a house easily (Shanghainese and Chinese who have lived for at least 5 years in Shanghai can have it). If you do not have it, look for these agents. If they are not already in jail for it.
- Manners: 3 years ago it was bad (and some friends tell me it was even worse before) and now it is improving. Some locals will spit, burp, cut their nails everywhere. Slow change here.
- Taxi drivers: a lot of times they can be scary due to they way they drive and it is hard to get them to stop for you in certain hours of the day Why?
- They might get more incentives by picking callers via phone or via app for example. It is not rare to have him/her skipping you while you are waving at them because they have a “better” request)
- Some taxi drivers don’t stop because they are close to the end of their shift. So drivers late for shifting will be fined (from Lin Lyu)
- Some drivers do not want (too far from recurring customers) or cannot go to certain parts of the city (according to their licenses).
- Pedestrian crossing: It is not very safe because most of the drivers will not stop and wait for you to pass, but things are changing slowly. Read: more fines are being given to drivers who do not respect this rule.
Any comment is welcome.