Whether you’re arriving at Wellington College International Shanghai as a new staff member, parent or pupil, we want to make you feel as welcome as possible in your new home. To that end, we’ve designed a brief guide to help you settle into Shanghai and make the most of what this amazing city has to offer.
For those not acquainted with the fast-paced urban centres of Asia, Shanghai can represent quite the shock to the system. As mainland China’s economic capital and most cosmopolitan city, Shanghai is absolutely packed with glittering skyscrapers, impressive bridges and elevated highways, vast malls and shopping districts, not to mention rather large crowds.
While this can seem a touch overwhelming at first, you’ll quickly become used to the hustle and bustle of the city, and will be able to seek out your own oasis of calm within it. Even this modern metropolis has plenty of hidden treasures which show off the rich heritage of the ancient Chinese culture, and offer you a wide range of sightseeing and unforgettable life experiences.
Lying on the estuary of Chang Jiang (Yangtze) River, Shanghai is roughly split into two. Puxi (to the west) remains Shanghai’s cultural, residential and commercial centre, while Pudong (to the east) is Shanghai’s newer growth area and since 1990 it has emerged as China’s financial and commercial hub. Wellington is located in The New Bund area of Pudong, close to the Huangpu district, giving easy access from both Puxi and Pudong.
The nearest metro station is Oriental Sports Centre, which is ten minutes’ walk away and offers access to Lines 6, 8 and 11. By car, it takes 30 minutes to travel to the People’s Square – the heart of the city – from the Wellington campus, depending on traffic.
Metro: If you do not own a car, the metro and taxis will most likely be your main form of transport in the city, since the bus system can be a little tricky for non-Chinese speakers to utilise. The Shanghai metro system is extremely easy to navigate, as its stations are clearly labelled in English and each stop is audibly announced in English too. Each journey will cost around 5 RMB depending on how far you’re going, making the metro excellent value for money.
Taxis: Taxis are relatively cheap, especially compared to the likes of London. While taxi drivers generally do not have a good command of English, there’s a wide range of excellent smartphone apps which can be immensely helpful. By using apps like Smart Shanghai or Taxi Card, you can simply type in your address and the app will convert it to Chinese characters to show to your driver. That being said, before moving to Shanghai it’s a good idea to learn how to say your home address and other key addresses, in case you’re caught out with a dead phone battery.
A final word of warning: it’s especially hard to get a taxi in Shanghai when it rains!
Medical facilities: Western-style medical facilities with international staffing are available in Shanghai. These offer international-standard family practice services, dental health, emergency medical and clinical services, though they can be very expensive. 24-hour emergency assistance is available as well as medical evacuation services. However, these may not equate to the same level of service found in your home country. Some local hospitals provide quality care but beware that most require cash in advance and little to no English will be spoken.
The most comprehensive hospital catering to expats and the only full 24-hour emergency services is Shanghai United Family Hospital and Clinics (SUFH). Wellington has arranged a comprehensive medical insurance package for staff members, who can view the full details at their leisure.
Optical: Opticians and optical services are also widely available throughout the city. Contact lens solution is also easily attainable Huashan Hospital in Puxi has a very competent international optical division.
Smog and air quality: While the problem is much less severe than in Beijing, Shanghai does encounter days of poor air quality, which can be a concern especially for families with young children. In order to remain aware and prepared, it’s highly recommended that you purchase good quality air filter units for your home, as well as face masks for when you’re outdoors. We also recommend that you download an air quality tracker app for your smartphone.
Water: While the water from the tap is perfectly safe for washing and cleaning, drinking it is not recommended. It is much safer and healthier to buy bottled water which can be found easily and cheaply in all supermarkets and convenience stores. For convenience’s sake, we recommend buying a water dispenser for a few hundred yuan (available in all supermarkets) with large refillable barrels which can be ordered in for 20RMB/barrel.
Laowai: After moving to Shanghai, you’ll quickly hear the word “laowai” being used by locals. “Lao” means old or wise, in a respectful context, while “wai” means outside. Together, the term is purely a label that many Chinese people use for any white person they see. While it might seem slightly odd at first to be labelled as such, it’s important to be aware that absolutely no offence is meant by the term, and it is simply part of living in a country which has only very recently opened to non-Chinese people.
Children: Chinese people love children, and will often react very warmly towards them, even to the point of picking up young children and touching older ones. For some Chinese people, Western children, especially if they are fair-haired, are an unusual sight, so they may attract a lot of attention. This phenomenon is much more common in the countryside than in the city. Do not be alarmed – it is not threatening, and is well intentioned.
Fortunately, Shanghai has a lot of child-friendly restaurants, and plenty of child-oriented activities and events including a variety of sports. A number of publications cater specifically for families with children, providing general information and guides on events and activities.
Moving to Shanghai will be absolute heaven for food lovers, as the sheer variety of culinary delights on offer is enough to keep even the most seasoned gourmet busy all year round. No matter where you are in the city, you’re never far from an exciting and unique dining experience.
Restaurants and bars: It’s incredibly easy to discover an amazing array of traditional Chinese cuisine being served up from all manner of establishments, from small, street-side eateries to very fancy, high-end restaurants, which represent all of the country’s different provinces. International cuisine is also very well represented, with everything from Japanese, to Indian, Nepali, Hungarian, Argentinean and even traditional British classics on offer across Shanghai. Be warned though, generally you will pay a premium for eating Western, whereas Chinese food is generally available at extremely reasonable prices. Look out for the bi-annual Restaurant Week in September and March – when more than 200 restaurants in Shanghai offer special lunch and dinner deals.
Street Eats: Street food has been part of Chinese culture for many hundreds of years and you can find some truly delicious and unique dishes. However, sadly there are potential health risks attached to this form of dining, as some vendors use poor quality ingredients and recycle their oil. A good rule of thumb is that if you are unsure, don’t eat it! While street carts won’t display a food hygiene rating, ‘hole in the wall’ type restaurants will have plaques on the wall with a rating from the Department of Sanitation. One of the most famous of Shanghai’s food streets is Shouning Road, near Huaihai Road.
Food delivery: One thing you’ll soon realise when living in Shanghai is that practically anything can be delivered to your door quickly and cheaply. This goes for online grocery shopping as well as takeaway, as an army of motorcycle riders is constantly zipping all over Shanghai, bringing food to hungry mouths! Most major supermarkets like Epermarket and Cityshop offer free delivery over a certain price threshold, while dedicated takeout delivery couriers like the ever-popular Sherpas charge a nominal 15RMB delivery fee.
Internet: The Great Firewall of China is the means by which the Chinese Government blocks out sites that it finds inappropriate or otherwise unacceptable. The list of blocked sites and services is long and in a state of continuous flux, including major online entities like Google, Twitter and Facebook.
Fortunately, there is a relatively simple and completely legal way to get around the firewall, which is to use a VPN, or Virtual Private Network. Wellington offers the use of a school VPN which reliably allows unblocked access to the internet, whereas for home and mobile use, you will need to subscribe to a VPN provider of your choosing. ExpressVPN, Banana and Astrill are all popular choices but it’s worth doing a little research on price and quality before committing.
Important: Make sure that you download and set up your VPN before moving to Shanghai, as the process is much easier this way.
Bring your phone everywhere: For new arrivals, your smartphone will be a lifeline. With just a few essential apps, you will be able to pay for goods and services, explore your surroundings, translate, and generally navigate the city much more easily. Here are a couple of “must have” apps to download:
WeChat: China’s answer to Whatsapp and Facebook, WeChat is ubiquitous and extremely useful. Not only can you use it for calls and instant messaging, a wide range of shops and service providers will accept payment via WeChat, turning your phone into a backup wallet.
Shanghai Air Quality Widget: A handy and simple AQI monitor.
Explore Shanghai Metro: The metro is easy to navigate but this app gives you a useful overview of the whole system and allows you to plan journeys in a more efficient manner.
Bon App!: The dining experience discover app of choice, Bon App is dedicated to searching, sharing, rating, and reviewing local restaurants and bars in English.
Baidu Maps: Unless you install a VPN on your phone, Google Maps will not be available, so Baidu Maps is a useful alternative for fast and accurate city street navigation.
Pleco: A must for those learning Mandarin, Pleco is a free dictionary app that offers paid add-ons like flash cards, a document reader, and live camera-based Chinese character recognition.