Finding Home Comforts in Shanghai for Expats

Finding Home Comforts in Shanghai for Expats
Finding Home Comforts in Shanghai for Expats

So, you’ve arrived in Shanghai, and you’re trying to settle into the city. Perhaps you’ve sampled the local cuisine, gone shopping, or tried communicating with some of the locals. For someone who has never been to China before or has limited Mandarin-speaking abilities, a lot of this can be quite daunting, and sometimes you just need a few ‘home’ comforts. While that may not always be possible, here’s a few options to get you (or your family) socializing, shopping, and learning as they would be back home.

1. Know where to go shopping

If one thing can be said about Shanghai’s shopping culture, it’s that they value convenience and efficiency all in one place.

Your options around the city are limitless from luxury brands and high tech gadgets to special designs and local goods. However, just because you can buy anything in Shanghai doesn’t mean it’s easy to navigate. When you first get here, it might be the biggest culture shock to see how people actually shop in the city.

Shanghai loves malls; I mean it REALLY loves malls. Most shopping complexes expand up between four to ten floors with flagship stores from all over the world. They have most American brands along with other Western fashion and lifestyle outlets, so you can easily find clothes that fit.

These large, often four-block-spanning towers contain almost everything you need from restaurants on the top floors, cafes on the bottom, and supermarkets under the first floor. Some of the best shopping mall complexes in Shanghai include the Kerry Center in Jing’an, Raffles City in Zhong Shan park, and Lido Way in Qingpu.

If you are specifically looking for international items, especially foodstuffs, then you’ll want to get yourself acquainted with the area’s ex-pat markets. Expat markets contain almost all of the general food items you’d find abroad and often have connections with bakeries that make bread and cakes to the common European standard. You can find these markets mostly scattered around Jing’an and the French Concession, often with an English name or the common “Best Import Food Store” on top.

And then there’s online shopping, the biggest market in Chinese domestic consumerism. If you don’t feel like going out when it’s too hot, too cold, too rainy, too flooded, or too much of a hassle, you can always open up an app on your phone and shop inside your weather-controlled apartment. Shanghai has a great mass of shopping apps, to the point where it’s more common to shop on your phone than to go out to a store. Here are a few shops that are very common and a must-have in this city:

App Icon App Name Function
Taobao Online shopping app for small stores, factory outlets, and individual sellers.
Hema Grocery store (mostly in Chinese)
Sherpas Mobile food delivery (in English)
Elema Mobile food and grocery delivery (mostly in Chinese)

2. Find your community!

In a city of 24.5 million people (, you’re going to find a plethora of different social groups, clubs, and volunteer opportunities for anyone. There are plenty of meet-up groups and culture societies you can become a part of to expand your social networking group here in Shanghai. A great way to find some of these groups is to go online or on your phone and search for events you can attend to get to know Shanghai better!

Apps to use:

App Icon App Name Function
WeChat Social media, group chats, and event postings.
Eventbrite Lists local events in the area that are posted by groups.
Smart Shanghai Shanghai event and lifestyle guide, good for local news, and browsing daily events.

3. Don’t be afraid to go out

Shanghai is a safe city with plenty of CCTV cameras watching your back and lots of people who speak English; you have every reason to try exploring Shanghai at night. Even better, Shanghai has a great clubbing and bar scene all over the city! You’ll find music venues that play every genre available, bars containing any beer and liquor ever distilled, dance clubs playing great-to-meh music, independent art showings, and even board game nights. There is a new event just about every day of the week, so there is no reason for you not to go out and meet somebody. Networking in this city is huge, so you will find Shanghai is an extroverted city where you can meet hundreds of people any night of the week and…There are plenty of reasons to go out at night when there’s probably somewhere holding an event that you’re interested in.


4. Find children’s education

As a city that often performs very well in international assessments of education standards, there’s no shortage of great schools in Shanghai. There are many options for ex-pats looking to put their kids into schools that follow a Western education model.

One such popular Shanghai international school is the IB (International Baccalaureate)World School, WISS (Western International School of Shanghai). While aimed towards providing a western standard of education, WISS further supplements this with Mandarin language and literature lessons. WISS also provides a variety of extra-curricular activities. They also offer several international programs such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, the Global Alliance for Innovative Learning, and even have a Stoke City Football Club Academy providing elite training for their students.

As you can see, there’s a lot to benefit from Shanghai’s education scene.


For ex-pats, Shanghai really does offer the best of both worlds. While there’s a lot to do to immerse yourself in all things Chinese such as exploring Chinese markets, learning the language, and enjoying the local food, sometimes a few home comforts are needed. Shanghai gives ex-pats the chance to balance these two things out and really get the most of their time in China.