4 Things I Wish I Had Known Before Studying Abroad in Shanghai, China

Emily Huang is a student at University of California, Santa Barbara and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is currently studying abroad with ISA in Shanghai, China.

I have only been in Shanghai for about three weeks and I can honestly say that this city is already starting to feel like home. I have explored the city with amazing friends from all over the world, such as Germany, Canada, and Italy, along with friends from different parts of the United States.

With that said, living in China can sometimes feel like I am living in another world. Although Shanghai itself is a very modern and international city, there are some major lifestyle differences I was not fully prepared for or expecting.

  1. E-Currency: Who needs a wallet when you’ve got a phone? Paying with your phone in Shanghai is now more common than paying with a credit card; even street vendors accept mobile payments through WeChat and AliPay. You can also pay for a cab, rent a bike on the street, and a ton of other services. In order to use these apps, however, you have to have a Chinese Bank Account. I wasn’t aware of this beforehand and I’m planning on opening an account soon so I’ll be able to safely keep my money in an account.

  2. Pack Essential Toiletries For The Entire Trip: Many brands and products you may use at home are either going to be difficult to find or marked up greatly in price. Everything from toothpaste to facial cleansers are going to be different, even if they’re from the same brands. Foreign companies are taxed rather heavily in China and companies also mark up prices substantially in order to appeal to the Chinese market. If you can’t read Chinese characters, it can also be hard to figure out what type of product you’re purchasing. Long story short, you’re better off bringing personal care items with you.

  3. Phone Plans:  I unlocked my phone just before departing and I planned to purchase a SIM card once I arrived in Shanghai. However, I wasn’t aware that it would take a while for my unlocked phone to actually work with my new number. Plan ahead and unlock your phone at least a month, if not more, in advance. I am still able to use my phone with data and wifi, but I can not be reached through my Chinese number.

Culture & Lifestyle: The traffic in Shanghai is insane. Vehicles will not always stop for you when you’re walking on the crosswalk, so be very cautious in always looking for oncoming vehicles. Furthermore, if you look like a foreigner, you will encounter people either taking pictures of you or wanting pictures with you. This can feel weird at times, but many of the locals are super friendly! The importance of generosity and food are two beautiful aspects of Chinese culture that I have found apparent during my first three weeks in Shanghai.

Before departing, I was incredibly nervous for what I was signing myself up for in leaving everything behind for a semester. However, I can now say my decision to study in Shanghai is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Hopefully my post will help many of you be more prepared than I was for this amazing city!

The world awaits…discover it.

Leave a Reply