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Interview with Georgia – a British expat in Shanghai

Updated 6 Sep 2012

After finishing university, Georgia moved to Shanghai to complete a month-long internship, but fell in love with the city and stayed on. She teaches English, enjoys the clean, safe, efficient public transport in Shanghai and has made loads of new friends in her time here. Read her advice on the best areas for families or young people to live, and how to go about making friends and meeting people in Shanghai.

Read more about China in the Expat Arrivals China country guide or read more expat experiences in China.

About Georgia

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Leeds, England

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Shanghai, Xuijahui

Q: How long have you lived in Shanghai?

A: 3 months

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?

A: I came by myself.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?

A: I just graduated from university so came on an internship programme for a month, but fell in love with the city and decided to stay longer. I want to stay for at least a year.

About Shanghai

Q: What do you enjoy most about Shanghai, how’s the quality of life?

A: There are an abundance of opportunities for Westerners here. Everyone is so welcoming. For a huge city, the community feels tight-knit and you feel extremely at home. The quality of life is great - there are so many interesting, fun things to do and see here and I am constantly soaking up the excitement. There are many expat supermarkets, schools, or Mandarin teachers who cater specifically to foreigners, which makes the quality of life great. Taxis are extremely cheap and the subway is very clean.

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?

A: You can't get all of the same food products here as at home. I do miss clean food, as in Shanghai it is hard to get really good quality fish and meat that isn’t extremely expensive. I find myself going to eat out more frequently, but I do miss home-cooked meals back home. English as a language is still growing in popularity with the local Shanghai residents, so it is often difficult to communicate if you don’t speak Mandarin. However, the city is very efficient and you can always get the address of where you need to go written in Chinese to show a taxi driver.

Q: Is Shanghai safe? Are there any areas expats should avoid?

A: So far, in my experience, the city is pretty safe. I catch taxis by myself all the time and don’t feel uneasy. The only dangerous thing is the traffic. Cars seem to ignore zebra crossings (pedestrian crossings) here and will drive into you if you are not careful. Expats should avoid taxis without a meter, and often people will try scam you into buying goods, which you should watch out for on the street.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Shanghai? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?

A: The public transport is excellent. It is quick, efficient and extremely clean. There are also security officers in the stations, which makes you feel at ease. However, rush hour can be manic so it's a good idea to plan your route early to avoid the crowds. You definitely don’t need a car in Shanghai; lots of people buy bikes to get around as there are special bike lanes on the roads in the city and it is very quick to get around that way. I am thinking of doing so.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Shanghai?

A: There are plenty of healthcare options for expats. Local magazines such as City Weekend and That’s Shanghai, which cater to expats that have moved to Shanghai, give information on the best healthcare options available. The hospitals here are top of the range, although often on the pricey side. If you are prepared to pay a little extra, it is worth it.

About living in Shanghai

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in Shanghai as an expat?

A: For families, I would definitely suggest somewhere like Shanghai Raquet Club in Minghang district, which is 45 minutes out of the centre but beautiful and quiet, with a river and gardens for young children to play. There is quite a big expat community there. Another option is Honqiao, which is quiet and therefore also good families, but closer to downtown Shanghai. For someone my age, 22 onwards, the French concession is a really cool happening area with bars and restaurants and cool boutiques.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Shanghai?

A: The standard of housing for expats is probably a lot better than it is for locals. The one downfall here is that there is no central heating, so in the cold winter, the best you can do is have hot air blowing from the air conditioning system. It's not ideal.

Q: What’s the cost of living in Shanghai compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

A: The cost of living in Shanghai is probably the same as living in a big city at home, however, you can get a lot for your money here. Depending on the area you stay in, obviously the price will go up or down but generally it doesn’t feel more expensive.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?

A: I mix mostly with expats.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Shanghai?

A: There are mixers and social events all the time here, which makes it very easy to make friends. You just have to put yourself 'out there' and go to the networking events, and very soon you'll find you have a crowd of really nice friends who are all in the same position as you. Everywhere you go, you'll find yourself getting into conversations with someone about how they got here and why. Everyone is so friendly and keen to meet new people that you will never be lonely.

About working in Shanghai

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for China?

A: I don’t have a residence permit yet; I'm just on a business visa right now. It wasn’t too hard to get. I had to go to Hong Kong to renew it, but as this can be completed in a day it isn't too much hassle. Often, however, you do have to get your company to sponsor the visa and it can be quite complicated.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Shanghai, is there plenty of work?

A: There are plenty of jobs here - it just depends on what you are looking for. There are always English teachers needed everywhere in the city and the pay is great - I've been doing it on the side to make some money while completing my internship. The schools are friendly and so are the staff members. If you want to do it full time, often the school will pay for your visa and medical insurance – there are many perks to the job.

Q: How does the work culture in Shanghai differ from home?

A: For my part, I think in this work culture people see you for you and your strengths in a working environment, and don't judge you by which university you went to or what degree you achieved. There are so many diverse areas to get involved in here compared to home, and even as an intern, you get a lot more responsibility than you would at the same company in England. The work culture is more laid back – I start at 10 in the morning and finish at 6pm. Most companies have a casual dress code as well, which makes it a lot more enjoyable. Chinese business culture is very different to any other country. They focus on building relationships with clients which is the most important aspect of work here, so be prepared to take a lot of clients to dinners to win them over. The Chinese call ‘saving face’ keeping up a good relationship and they don’t want to lose that. The culture here is that everyone gives out their business cards to everyone else. No matter where I go, I am constantly collecting hundreds of cards. But it is a great way to get to know people who you might want to work with in the future.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?

A: Be open to all opportunities and experiences – this is the city of dreams if you want it to be. Look past the negatives and focus on the positives and you can have a really great life here. Join websites such as Shanghai Expat, which gives you a ton of information and really helps newbies settle in. The Expat Community Centre is brilliant and has many classes and courses to help you make new friends and learn things you never thought you would. I am taking guitar lessons and a photography course there, and the teachers are great.

► Interviewed September 2012

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