Saunders 1865 | Moving to Shanghai

Moving to Shanghai

Are you moving to Shanghai? With a population in excess of 24 million, Shanghai has grown to become the largest city in the world. It’s a major financial centre and it’s also the world’s largest port. The city has long been a conduit for trade between east and west and has returned to its pre-eminent position in the wake of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms in the 90s. Now it has one of the most recognised skylines on the planet and it acts a showpiece for the new Chinese prosperity.

Known as the ‘Paris of the East’ or the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, Shanghai has become a stylish and sophisticated city. Its growing importance on the financial stage is attracting foreign investment and businesses, and there is an expanding expat workforce in finance, biomedicine, high-tech industries and education.

Our free, in-depth Moving to Shanghai report includes info on:

• The best areas to live
• The good schools
• The average monthly rental prices
• The excellent public transport system in the city

Putting Shanghai on the Map

Shanghai lies on the east coast of China, some 800 miles south of the capital, Beijing. Located between the Yangtze River Delta and Hangzhou Bay, the peninsula upon which it stands is continuing to grow due to natural silt deposition and land reclamation. The city itself is bisected by the Huangpu River, a man-made tributary of the Yangtze. The historic centre lies on the west bank of the Huangpu, while the modern financial centre has been built on the east bank. The topography is generally flat, and the soft sandy soil has necessitated building deep foundations for the city’s modern towers.

Having rapidly grown to become the world’s largest city, Shanghai has needed an infrastructure that could catch up fast.
• All of Shanghai‘s public transport, including taxis, can be accessed using the Shanghai Public Transportation Card.
The Shanghai Metro is a vast network of subway and light railway lines that covers every part of the city, with 334 miles of tracks and 329 stations.
• More than 7 million people use the network each day.
Shanghai also boasts the world’s biggest bus network with nearly 1,000 lines.
Shanghai is a major transport hub for China and an important intersection on the country’s road network.
Elevated expressways have been built through the city to relieve traffic pressure, though rush-hour jams are still common.
• Bicycles are banned on the major highways and most other roads have separate bicycle lanes.
• Private car ownership is discouraged by the necessity of bidding for a limited number of private car license plates.
Shanghai has four main railway stations and high-speed railways connect the city to Beijing, Nanjing and Hangzhou.
• There are two commercial international airports serving the city, capable of handling 70 million passengers per year.

The Areas

Naturally, Shanghai covers a wide range of districts and suburbs. The downtown area is divided into five districts and there are a multitude of outer suburbs. Each one has its own character, ranging from the high-rise architectural playground of the CBD to leafy streets of low-level traditional housing. Foreigners are not permitted to buy property until they have spent a year in China, so all new arrivals have to rent.

Serviced apartments are the most popular choice of property for expats, though the more adventurous can rent historic villas, independent lane houses or duplexes. Living downtown in the Lujiazui financial district is most convenient for the majority of expats, though rising rents and tightening corporate housing budgets mean people are starting to venture further afield.


This large district on the east side of the Huangpu River has been transformed from farmland to a world financial centre in just a few short years. It comprises of <>bLujiazui, Jinqiao and Kanqiao.


This is the area of Shanghai’s famous skyline and where most of the foreign financial institutions in the city have their offices. As well as the glittering towers, there are a number of smart residential compounds offering apartments and villas in the most convenient location in the city.


The Jinqiao Export Development Zone was established to encourage the arrival of large multinationals, and there are some lovely villa compounds and apartment complexes built specifically with expats in mind. French nationals will appreciate the presence of a Carrefour supermarket, while the area appeals to families because of its two international schools and a good range of sporting and entertainment facilities. It’s also highly convenient for Pudong Airport.


This is Pudong’s industrial zone, but a number of international schools, supermarkets and villa compounds give it expat appeal.


Puxi comprises the central districts on the west side of the Huangpu, namely Changning, Zhongshan Park, Hongqiao, Minhang, Luwan, Jing’an, Huangpo and Xuhui. Each has its own particular character but they generally offer a good selection of shops and restaurants, schools and medical clinics.


This was the original expat district of the city and plenty of foreign families continue to live here. It offers easy access to international schools, excellent transport links and plenty of green spaces.

Zhongshan Park

There are some attractive expat apartment complexes here, including Edifice, Park View and Belvedere. It’s a neighbourhood of quiet charm but it’s still convenient for the CBD and the international schools in Hongqiao and Gubei. Slightly lower rents mean that it appeals to young couples and singles.


The international schools in this ex-industrial area attract families with children, and it has good housing, supermarkets, shops and medical facilities. For those with a bit more to spend, Hongqiao offers large villas with spacious gardens.


Minhang is particularly known for its international schools, including American, British, Singaporean and Japanese schools. The area has a more rural feel to it, with farmland as well as industrial zones interspersing the residential enclaves. Expats favour Hongqiao Town and Zhudi Town, for their villas and apartments and easy subway links to the city centre.


South of the People’s Square, Luwan boasts one of Shanghai’s most popular streets, Huaihai Road, an east-west thoroughfare of shops and entertainment venues—ranging from international fashion houses to department stores, antique markets to fake designer goods, flower markets to restaurants, bars and nightclubs. The area mainly appeals to singles and young couples.


Named after a Buddhist temple of peace, this crowded area is particularly popular with expats. There’s a wide choice of housing at all price points and it’s well-located for the CBD and many of Shanghai’s attractions.


This is the heart of the city and the location of the People’s Square — and China’s most famous shopping street, Nan Jing Road. Along the banks of the Huangpu, you’ll find the most stunning collection of Art Deco architecture in the world, known as the Bund. It’s a massive tourist attraction, but the area is relatively short on residential properties.


This large part of inner Shanghai has the lowest population density. Once part of the historic French Concession, there are many beautiful villas, making it a prestigious locale favoured by government representatives. However, there are some good apartment complexes which are popular with expats.

Who Lives in Shanghai and Why?

As the largest city in the world, Shanghai is also one of the fastest growing — it’s population increased by 37.5 percent over the 10 years up to 2010. More than 98 percent of the population are of Han Chinese origin, and there are approximately 150,000 expats living in the city.

Shanghai is the commercial and financial heart of China, and ranks as the 16th most important global financial centre.
• The Shanghai Stock Exchange ranks third in the world.
• 2013 saw the launch of the first free-trade zone on mainland China, creating a preferential environment for foreign investment.
• As a result, Shanghai has the highest levels of foreign direct investment in the Asia-Pacific region.
• As well as being a financial centre, Shanghai is also the world’s busiest port and one of China’s main industrial power houses.
• China’s largest steel manufacturer and shipbuilder are based here.
High tech industries such as electronics and biomedicine are also making an impact.
• Expats with a knowledge of Mandarin are highly sought after.

The Best Bits

Shanghai is certainly one of the most exciting cities in the world at the moment, with a lot to tempt expats to live and work here. It’s certainly an experience you’ll never forget!

Here are some of the best bits:
Architecture—from the world’s largest collection of Art Deco buildings in the Bund to the soaring towers that make up its iconic skyline to traditional shikumen townhouses, Shanghai offers a different style of building on every street corner. The most recent additions, the Shanghai World Financial Centre, the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower, are distinctive examples of world-class modern architecture.
Shanghai has a number of important museums and art galleries, including the Shanghai Museum of Art and History, which has one of the most extensive collections of Chinese artefacts in the world. The Shanghai Art Museum in the People’s Square is another major must-see.
• Longua Temple is a massive temple complex, populated by golden statues, towers and pagodas.
• It may be a crowded city, but Shanghai has an impressive selection of parks and gardens to stretch your legs in, including the People’s Square in the heart of the CBD, once a racetrack. Yuyuan Gardens date back to 1559 and is an extraordinary example of a Chinese classical garden.
• Dontal Road antiques market is the place to go for that special memento to take home with you—there are 100 stalls hawking trinkets, objets and furniture.
• 2016 should see the opening of Disneyland Shanghai in the heart of Pudong.
Zhujiajiao Water Town is the Venice of the east, with a maze of canals.

Bringing the Kids

Although this is a busy, frenetic and crowded city, there are plenty of quieter areas and open spaces that help make it family friendly. Choose one of the older districts, such as Xuhui, Jinqiao, Minhang, Changning or Hongqiao — here you’re more likely to find single-family villas with gardens and international schools.
Shanghai has twice taken the top spot in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a rating of academic performance by the OECD.
PISA concluded that Shanghai’s state schools are the best in the world.
22% of Shanghai’s population have been educated to college level.
• Shanghai has 930 kindergartens, 1,200 primary schools and 850 middle schools.
• The city also boasts 30 universities.
• Naturally, expats are more likely to enrol their children in one of Shanghai’s 31 international schools, including outposts of Harrow, Wellington and Dulwich College.
• There’s a good choice of European and US curricula available, including the International Baccalaureate.
• Identify your school of choice before you settle on where in the city you want to live, in as commuting long distances in the rush hour can be very time consuming.

Relocating to Shanghai

Although Beijing is the administrative capital of China, Shanghai is surely the commercial capital of one of the most powerful economies in the world. It’s a city that has seen rapid growth and development, though there are still plenty of reminders of its earlier heyday in the late 19th and early 20th century. Expats moving to Shanghai have to rent, at least for the first year, and there is a wide choice of property styles to choose from — from swanky new apartment blocks to traditional Chinese town houses to colonial villas dating back to when England and France had interests in the city. However, as a result of economic success, city centre rents are rising fast, so more and more expats are exploring the outer districts, which can be quieter and more spacious — an added appeal if you’re bringing your family.

At Saunders 1865, our teams of experts combine local knowledge with first-hand experience to pinpoint the right area and the right property that will tick all your boxes.

Do you have children that need to be enrolled in school? Are the transport links convenient for your needs?

Does this location fit with your expectations of expat life and is the space configured in a way that suits your requirements?

We can bring expertise to all these factors and help to arrange smooth, efficient and stress-free relocations – to Shanghai, London and destinations across the world. Our services include home finding assistance, school finding, lease negotiations, temporary accommodation, move management and immigration assistance. Don’t hesitate to contact us to find out how we can help you.


Good Schools
Museums & Galleries
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Average Monthly Rent - Shanghai
Apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre ¥6,826
Apartment (1 bedroom) outside of centre ¥3,694
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city centre ¥15,811
Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of centre ¥8,094
Contact us for a free initial consultation about your specific situation.
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