Getting Started in Shanghai

SmartIntern's Tips for Getting Started in Shanghai


Cabs & Uber in Shanghai

"I need a ride!"

Shanghai has over 50,000 taxi cabs- finding one is generally very easy, unless it's a rainy day (and don't even get us started on a rainy day during rush hour). There are also odd times when taxi cabs seem to be missing- a lot of people will claim that around 10:30PM many drivers will take a break as 11:00PM brings a higher starting fare. 

Shanghai cabs typically belong to one of six major cab companies.

Dazhong Taxi (light blue) and Qiangsheng (gold) are considered to be the most reliable, while you'll also see many Bashi (green) and Jinjiang (white). There are also numerous red/maroon-colored cabs called Fanlanhong, which locals consider to be less reliable (we've had good experiences with them, however!). [Note: there are some "black taxis" in Shanghai and other Chinese cities- these unregulated (and illegal) cars are not recommended. You'll know a black taxi if the driver approaches you, asking if you want a ride.]

Fares start at 16RMB for the first 3 Kilometers (+2.4RMB/KM), and between the times of 23:00-5:00 sees a rise in fare to 17RMB for the first 3 Kilometers (+3.1RMB/KM).

Booking can be done over the phone:

Dazhong - 96822
Qiangsheng - 6258-0000
Jinjiang - 96961
Bashi - 96840

Or using a "taxi app" such as Didi Dache.

Uber also has a presence in Shanghai, with rates significantly less than in the US or other global cities. Estimate 30-40RMB/ride downtown. 


Sim cards & phone service in Shanghai, Phone repair in Shanghai

"I need to get connected!"

Shanghai features three main telecom companies: China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom. But when it comes to mobile networks, Unicom and Mobile are most popular. China Mobile and China Unicom shops are numerous and a quick search will show locations near your accommodations. 

Chances are you'll need to go with China Uncom, as they offer both FDD-LTE (4G), W-CDMA (3G). China Mobile uses it's own standard, TD-SCDMA (3G) and TD-LTE (4G), which means your phone may not be compatible. 

Generally you'll have to register your passport with your SIM card, but SIMs can be bought at most newspaper vendors along the street for $7, including a few dollars of phone credit. If you don't want a data plan, you can pay as you go and limit your phone bill to USD $10/month. It's easy to recharge your phone credit at any 7-11 or Family Mart convenient stores using one of the electronic kiosks inside (on the screen, you'll read "Mobile Top-Up"). 

For phone repair, we turned to Reddit, where user /u/zcmy posts the following:


  • Pacific Digital Plaza or Metrocity at Xujiahui (肇嘉浜路/漕溪北路)
  • Da'ao Communications Mall by Shanghai Railway Station (天目西路/恒丰路)


  • Steven Chen (wechat: @chenyuerui1983)
  • 陈慧君at stall #175 of Da'ao Communications Mall


Public Transportation in Shanghai

"How do I get there?" 

When it comes to public transportation, Shanghai might be unmatched.

The Shanghai Metro is a sprawling, yet convenient & easy, form of transportation that will put you within a few minutes walk of nearly anywhere you can think of downtown, in addition to providing a nice straight shot out into the suburbs & countryside. Fares start at 3RMB and max out at 6RMB to go to Pudong Airport.

Read more about using the Shanghai Metro here, and a killer subway map here

Buses can be a bit more difficult as a foreigner with no Mandarin skill-set, as the signs and schedules are 100% in Chinese characters. It's a bit of a challenge at first, but you'll soon start to learn all the major street names in Chinese and be reading the maps in no time. At 2RMB per ride, it can't be beat. 


Shanghai Maps 

"Where is that?"

As westerners, we're partial to the Google ecosystem- Google Maps does work, but you'll need a VPN [Guide to VPNs].

Baidu Maps is another option, but you'll run into issues if you can't read Chinese. 

ExploreShanghai has a great subway map to time your route from A to B, and links out to Google Maps for checking your destination area. 


VPN Services

"But...I need Facebook!"

Speaking of VPNs, we'll have to recommend Astrill. Just a few bucks a month will give you access to the Google ecosystem, Facebook, Youtube and the comforts of your home country's internet. Of course, the other "price" you pay is a slower speed due to the nature of how a VPN works. 


Hotels in Shanghai 

"I need a place to stay..."

Ctrip is recommended for finding a wide range of accommodations, from five star hotels to bed & breakfasts. Plenty of locations offer pay-upon-arrival services as well, whereas some hotels will require an up-front payment or deposit. 

Hostelworld & Hostelbookers are go-to's when it comes to finding affordable hostels in Shanghai and throughout China. Hostels in China are surprisingly good- using Hostelworld you'll be able to view legitimate reviews by other backpackers and travelers. 


Flights to and from Shanghai

"I need a flight!"

Ctrip, again. Ctrip is a leader in China travel- domestic flights and regional through Asia can be bought on Ctrip. 

China Spring Airlines is China's leading budget airline. They are based in Shanghai and stick mostly to domestic routes, plus a few regional destinations (Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea and more). You can fly out from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport or Pudong International Airport. Similar to budget airlines in other regions, checked bag fees apply and they'll limit your carry on bags to 1 (+1 personal item). Food and other amenities cost extra, as expected. However if you buy your ticket at the right time, you may end up paying only $20-$50 prior to taxes. 


Trains to and from Shanghai 

"How do I take a train?"

Ctrip, for the third time, comes recommended. Shanghai has three major train stations: Shanghai Railway Station, Shanghai South Railway Station, and Shanghai Hongqiao Railway station. Be careful which one you depart/arrive with!

G trains are the fastest, followed by D train. Anything else: the "slow train". 

Tickets can also be bought at neighborhood ticket shops, and at the station. Shanghai railway stations have English-speaking counter lines to assist.

Trains in China are one of the most reliable forms of transportation, but be warned- train stations and the public squares outside most are notorious for pickpockets and some people who may stare at foreigners in particular. 


Weekend Trips in Shanghai 

"I need a break!"

Want to escape Shanghai for a couple days? Look no further than:

Hangzhou-  it's actually a decent-sized city by any other country's standards. Shouldn't be more than 45 minutes by D or G train. Famous for the West Lake Scenic Area. 

Suzhou- famous "water town" with scenic canals, 25 minutes by G train. 

Wuzhen- another famous spot just a short jump away by train. 

Nanjing- just a couple hours away, the differences between Shanghai and Nanjing are drastic. Things feel slower, and that's meant in a great way. 

Moganshan- a hundred years ago, the hills of Moganshan was a weekend/seasonal retreat area for wealthy foreigners. Original homes and villas still exist, although some in major disrepair. Today, Moganshan is still a getaway spot, featuring nice inns and activities. Check out Naked Retreats for one of their packages, or simply plan a group trip with your friends!

Another event organizer is Dragon Adventures. Catering to a younger crowd, Dragon puts together all-inclusive hiking trips, rafting, and more into the Shanghai countryside and wilderness. Past trips include destinations such as hiking Yellow Mountain, Skiing in Beijing, and relaxing at hot springs. 

Got an extra day or two to spare? Take the G train to Beijing! 500RMB one-way and gets you there in less than 6 hours. 


Where to live in Shanghai 

"Where's the best place to rent?"

We recommend Jing'an District, Xuhui, or Changning. They're all easy to navigate, have plenty of services, bars, cafes and parks. Behind these, we'd say Huangpu (near People's square), but it's rammed with traffic and one-way small streets that can be a pain for taxis and getting out of the area.

Jing'an is one of the central business districts- you'll find all the high-end shops. Amidst the action, go north of Nanjing West Road and you'll find quieter residential areas. Most apartments in Jing'an are high-rises. The district is also the most densely-populated in Shanghai, while also being the smallest. Jing'an is serviced my Metro Line 2 and Line 7. 

Xuhui features one of Shanghai's most popular neighborhoods: the former French Concession. Tree-lined streets, active cafes, lane houses, local markets, boutiques and nightlife provide a more bohemian feel. Rent here will be as much as Jing'an, but you'll most likely be living in an older home or apartment. 

Changning is a sprawling district west of Jing'an and Xuhui. It covers some universities and is overall a pretty nice residential area. Rent can be a bit lower than the aforementioned districts and there are some nice arteries that you'll be able to bike directly into Xuhui for a bit more activity. The heart of Changning would be Zhongshan Park, and to the south you have Xujiahui. 

One of our good friends Qiqi handles a lot of real estate for foreigners- 

You can add her on WeChat: Gibette

Some additional information is available here.


Movies and Cinemas in Shanghai

"I really need to see that new movie."

There are a huge amount of cinemas in Shanghai playing most of the biggest Hollywood and foreign releases, in addition to screening all the domestic films.

Locals have a step up on expats and foreigners since there are a few major ticket-buying apps that are only in Chinese, offering up to $7 off the counter price. Fear not, as is an English site that can assist with locations and reserving tickets. 

Side note: Most movie theaters in Shanghai are new, with many offering IMAX screens and solid sound experiences. 


Buying Online in Shanghai

"What is this 'Taobao'?"

Ever heard of Taobao? Tmall? These Chinese-language sites are some of the largest in the world- nearly any product imaginable, delivered straight to your door in just a few days. Check out the Taobao Field Guide for a how-to on getting started using Taobao, or turn to a local friend to help you out! does exist, but again, Chinese language only, and they're lagging behind the Alibaba-owned Taobao properties. 


Where to Buy a Bicycle in Shanghai

"I heard Shanghai is a city for bikers..."

Shanghai is a city for bikers! Bikes can be found at a range of prices and at locations like Carrefour, and be sure to run through SmartShanghai's Bike Shop List

If you're into the fixie scene: Shanghai has some heavy hitting foreign-run shops like Factory Five (+86 135-8555-5644) on the expensive, high quality end of things. On the opposite side, you'll find Fixie Frank- be prepared, you get what you pay for. 

The most prevalent international brand in Shanghai is Giant. Check them out on Jianguo Lu. 

You can always find bikes in Taobao or neighborhood bike shops. Check out our write-up here.  

Finally, if you're just in town for a short while and would rather take a tour, Dutch-run company Wheely Bike Tours comes recommended. 


Gyms in Shanghai

"I need to lift, bro!"

One of the best gyms we've found in Shanghai is Physical on Huaihai Middle Road. Open since January 2014, the equipment is a collection of Cybex (weight denoted in LBS) and Lifestyle (KG) machines, with 2 full sets of freeweights, squat rack, incline/decline/flat bench, plus a huge assortment of new cardio equipment. 

Cardio, yoga, and spinning classes are offered daily. 

Estimated price: 3,100RMB for 12 or 13 months (negotiate a free 1 month trial if possible!). If you plan on leaving Shanghai for months at a time, they'll let you put a hold on your member card for 100RMB per month. 

Hit up Morgan at 15921267411 and he'll hook you up.

7/F, 527 Huaihai Zhong Lu,
near Yandang Lu


Where to Buy Protein in Shanghai 

"How can I bulk up?"

Need a whey protein fix? Check the aforementioned Taobao, or grab some at the basement level of Jiuguang (JoinBuy) Mall at Jing'an Temple. Look at paying a premium above what you'd normally pay in your home country, though. Worth it if you want to get huge. 

1618 Nanjing West Road
Jing'an, Shanghai, China
+86 21 3217 4838


Yoga in Shanghai 

"I need to detox..."

Yoga is something that everyone has a different preference for- so check out SmartShanghai's Yoga list to inquire based on your needs. Shanghai's a trendy city with many options to get healthy. 


Fitness in Shanghai

"How can I feel healthier?"

Started by Wu Fei, female Chinese martial arts expert, BODYMINDSOUL puts on a number of fitness programs: from 30 days fitness challenges to personal training to martial arts, to yoga and body combat. BMS also organizes and runs fitness retreats to various locations throughout domestic China and in Asia (Yoga on the beach in Thailand, anyone?)

Hit up BODYMINDSOUL at +86-130-6170-7678 or email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Running in Shanghai

"So, where can I run?"

Some may warn of the pollution being a hinderance, but people still manage to get some great runs in- beware of traffic and those silent electric scooters, though! Shanghai is a beautiful city to run in, especially down the tree-lined streets of the former French Concession, where you can view historical architecture and stay cool during the hot summer days. 

Check out MapMyRun's Shanghai Routes


Imported Food & Groceries in Shanghai

"I could really go for some real cheese." 

One of the perks of living in Shanghai is easy access to imported groceries from your home country- if you're willing to pay a premium. Two of the biggest import chains are CitySuper and CityShop. 

CitySuper locations

CityShop locations

One of our favorites is Feidan, which is smaller buy boasts slightly lower prices. You'll find it on Anfu Road in Xuhui.

Feidan: 158 Anfu Road, Xuhui, Shanghai, China 


Visa information in Shanghai

"I'm a bit unclear on the visa laws."

Visa laws and regulations in China are implemented differently in each city- Shanghai may be different than Beijing, and so-on. We recommend doing things by the book to be straight with the most recent updates. 

Our favorite sites to refer to when receiving news about visa changes are:

China Briefing, which is a business intelligence publication, and 

Law and Border, a US and China visa law blog. 

Both are updated on a regular, daily basis. 


Volunteering Organizations in Shanghai

"Where can I volunteer?"

BEAN Shanghai is reputable and sets up regular community events and fundraisers for those less fortunate in China. It's also a great way to meet new people and network while doing something good. 


Shanghai Apps for Android and iOS

"How can I stay up-to-date with all Shanghai has to offer?"

SmartShanghai - events, articles, directory, and more. SmSh is generally referred to as the best site for daily updates to all the local scenes (food, music, art, community and more). 

WeChat - #1 chat app in China, everyone uses this (businesses, too!). It's becoming necessary to use for communication for that reason alone. 

Pleco - The #1 Chinese dictionary, and free!

IndulgeSmart - Started in 2014, this is a fast-growing English application for foodies in Shanghai. Featuring top-notch user reviews and a dedicated community, it's soon becoming a go-to source for restaurant info and suggestions in Shanghai.