Moving to Shanghai – How can you prepare yourself?

Moving to Shanghai – How can you prepare yourself?

No matter how long you have planned for it, becoming an expatriate in Shanghai will be unlike any experience that you could ever imagine. You may be starting to research what to expect or ask for advice on what to expect for you and your family. However, it is always better to get multiple opinions. Below are some of the challenges most Shanghai expatriates have when they first arrive in Shanghai; with this knowledge, perhaps your acclimation will be that much smoother.

Language Barriers

Working in China has many exciting and daunting challenges. Fortunately, language barriers should not be a terrible issue in regards to work. Most high-level local businessmen in Shanghai have a strong grasp of the English language. Because of this, you won’t have to force yourself to learn either Mandarin, or the local dialect, Shanghainese. However, this is not to say learning these languages isn’t a necessity. Local street merchants and other non-work related citizens are not as likely to have the same English competency. To fully appreciate what Shanghai has to offer, learning the local tongue is still suggested.

While the language barriers will be limited in the workplace, you will need to deal with some cultural differences. There are significant variances between the Western and Eastern workplaces. It should be noted that many local Chinese businesses work in a very hierarchical system. Respect and relationship building, known as guanxi, are crucial aspects of Chinese society. This is vastly more important in China than in the west. This should be kept in mind when you first encounter your new coworkers.

Getting About

Transportation is an important aspect of life, no matter where in the world you are. However, Shanghai’s driving system leaves a few hurdles one must encounter. A foreign driver’s license or an international driver’s license will not be valid in Shanghai. This means applying for a local driver’s permit should be one of your earliest tasks while settling into the metropolis.

Obtaining this permit may be the best alternative though. The competition for space and placement in other modes of transportation are quite fierce. You’ll understand this after your first five minutes in Shanghai. Prepare yourself for individuals elbowing their way past you to get that seat on the bus, or to beat you to the checkout stand at the market. China is a country of nearly one and half billion people; with so many of them living in Shanghai, lining up is a luxury that isn’t always practiced. The best way to manage this cultural change is to simply embrace it, and act as if you’re in a nightclub all the time.

Day to Day

Clothing will be another potential issue one should prepare for prior to arriving in Shanghai. It may be advantageous to follow some stereotypes in this regard. Finding proper clothing and business attire can be a challenge, particularly for larger individuals.  For instance, it is rare to find shoes over a size 38/39 in women’s shoes and 45/46 for men. Similarly, clothing above a European size 40 can be nonexistent. Swimwear is limited in China, with many options considered frilly and outdated by western customs. Undergarments are limited as well for women with more than a B size cup. Most expatriates should do their clothes shopping in their home country, to avoid some of the hassles that will surely arise otherwise.

Make sure you have a list of contacts that may help you if you have an emergency. These contacts should include hospitals and clinics, and Lifeline Shanghai. Lifeline Shanghai is a free, anonymous helpline dedicated to helping expatriates with their assimilation problems.

Shanghai is one of the world’s most exotic cities. It is a melting pot full of color, vibrancies, and the occasional chaos. Preparation and managing expectations prior to moving here are definitely advantageous. However, the only way to get a real feel of how it will be is to actually live in and experience Shanghai firsthand.



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