Initially, Shanghai sounded less than appealing to American Andrea Duty. When her husband Chris told her that his company had offered him a position in the city, she didn’t even want to discuss it.
My first reaction was: absolutely not
“My first reaction was: absolutely not,” Duty recalled several months later, munching on imported Spanish cheese in a Tapas bar in the heart of Shanghai.
Two months after their move, the couple is in love with Shanghai, and, like many foreigners, they can reel off an almost endless list of reasons for it.
Shanghai is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in China, and its glamour has long been a draw for foreigners from all over the world. For more than 150 years, people from overseas have found a home away from home here. Then and now, it’s opportunity that drives them to settle here.
But China’s recent economic woes have meant fewer expats are establishing themselves in the country. Reports indicate the number of foreigners in the city was around 255,000 around a year ago, a drop of 2% versus 2014.
Economic growth slipped to just under 7% last year, the stock market has been volatile and rich Chinese are seeking ways to get their money out of the country. In recent years some foreign companies have become more pessimistic about their operations in China, and started to replace foreigners in top positions with foreign-educated Chinese. In 2014, twice as many expats moved out of the China than into it, a study by UniGroup Relocation found.
Although everyone is waiting for the economic bubble to burst, China’s financial capital is still a very attractive option for workers looking for an exciting overseas assignment. Foreigners still see Shanghai as a chance to either further their career in ways they couldn’t at home, or to make money quickly. For many, it’s both.
“Expats here have an interesting opportunity because it’s still such a boomtown, and many are moving in,” said Duty, an American chef who is working on a cookbook on French regional pastries.
I do find it more financially comfortable than living in London or in New York
Most expats don’t find life in Shanghai all that expensive — perhaps because expat incomes are high. In China, foreigners make an average of about $158,000 a year, compared to a global average of just over $104,000, HSBC’s 2015 Expat Explorer survey found.
Many professionals work in management positions, and are paid premiums to make the big leap here, despite relatively greater cultural hurdles and worsening air pollution. Some are even offered a pollution hazard pay.
Over the past few years, air pollution levels have worsened in Shanghai. On some days, the air is deemed “very unhealthy” but it hardly ever reaches the “hazardous” levels Beijing residents are struggling with.
But the glitz and the many comforts of living in Shanghai have their price, a recent survey by corporate consultants ECA International found. In terms of cost of living, Shanghai has surpassed other Asian metropolises and takes the top rank as the continent’s most expensive city for expats.
The survey only compared consumer goods and services, and did not consider housing or income, but other studies, too, show that the city of more than 24 million can be one of the world’s most expensive.