Your bags are packed and your flights are booked, but is the thought of navigating Shanghai in a foreign language stressing you out? Not to worry! Follow this 3 part guide to prepare for your upcoming trip to Shanghai!
Shanghai Arrival Guide Part 1: Pre-Departure
Your trip to Shanghai is coming up and although you’re excited about traveling to a new part of the world, you may also be worried about safely and successfully traveling around. But don’t worry! There are simple steps you can take before boarding your flight that will make traveling to Shanghai easier!
Prepare Important Addresses in Chinese and English
Print out or take a screen-shot of important addresses in Chinese characters. Taxi drivers can only speak Chinese so showing them the full address and a cross-street, will better ensure you will get to the place you need to go. Save the addresses of places like your hotel, the airport or train station, and museums or restaurants you want to check out, and your tour meeting points all, in Chinese characters.
Download Useful Apps
Dictionaries and Translating Apps
Having a Chinese translating App is essential to traveling around the city. Google Translate is free for download and has an offline language pack available, but otherwise you will need wifi to access. Pleco is another good dictionary that can operate fully offline. With both dictionaries, you can save certain useful translations for quick retrieval later.
Walking around the city is a great way to explore, but you will soon realize how large of a city Shanghai is. Taking the metro is a great way to cover more parts of the city, faster. Shanghai’s metro is cheap, clean and easy to navigate. Explore Shanghai Metro has both a free and paid version. Note that the metro lines start closing at 10pm, so if you will be out late, you must find another way of getting around.
Uber is another way of getting around and a great alternative to hailing taxis. If it is raining or if you are out late at night, forget about trying find a cab, instead call an uber! The options for Uber China are slightly different than what you may be used to:
Uber Black: RMB 20 minimum fare for a licensed luxury black Mercedes, Audi, Buick or VW
UberXL: RMB 20 minimum fare for a van or SUV that seats up to six passengers
Uber English: RMB 20 minimum fare for a standard vehicle with an English speaking driver
Uber X: RMB 15 minimum fare (slightly more expensive than a taxi) for a standard car
People’s Uber: RMB 15 minimum fare (cheaper than a taxi for rides over 3 kilometers) for a car that can range from a Chinese-made BYD to a Maserati. You can request a car to yourself or take the car-pooling option.
But, Uber can be tricky to use sometimes. Where you drop your pin for pick-up may not always be your exact location. So when requesting an uber (except for Uber English), be mindful that the driver will call to ask where you are. You will need to be ready to tell them an address or intersection in Chinese so that they can find you.
Air Quality Index
Feeling sick is an easy way to ruin a trip so staying healthy is very important. You should be aware of the pollution everyday so that you can plan your activities accordingly. On days of high pollution, avoid walking or spending too much time outside. Also, think about bringing a purifying mask along with you. The 3M brand is very reliable. Download this app for free so that you can keep track of the pollution levels and stay healthy.
Find Places to Go
The city’s most popular lifestyle magazines both have apps so that you can have access to lists of restaurants, bars, clubs, museums, and events in your pocket. Check out City Weekend and Smart Shanghai to find things to do in the city. Both apps include city listings with reviews and addresses (in English & Chinese for taxi drivers), directions, map, contact and cost information. Also, check out Bon App for dining deals at the city’s most popular restaurants.
Do Research and Make Plans
Book a Tour
Check out the top tours on TripAdvisor and book activities during the first few days of your trip will pay dividends during the time you spend wandering. Of course we recommend booking a food tour the first few days of your trip to give you the confidence to order on your own during your travels!
Buy a Guidebook
The Hunt Guide Shanghai is one of the best, compact guides we’ve seen covering the best sights, food, nightlife & shopping. Glutton Guide Shanghai, written by the founders of UnTour Shanghai, gives you an in-depth look at the city’s food scene, so you can eat shoulder to shoulder with locals at every meal. It’s curated culinary content for people who plan their trips around a city’s food scene
Check out some titles to familiarize yourself with Chinese history and culture!
- Wild Swans: History of modern China, as told through a very engaging family history
- China Road: Contemporary Social Issue
- Shark’s Fin Soup: Primer on Chinese food in memoir form
Buy a VPN
If you fear you won’t be able to access your favorite sites while traveling in Shanghai, you may want to consider purchasing a VPN before arriving. You can install VPNs on both your computer and your phone. Some popular VPNs include Astrill or ExpressVPN, and cost about $10/month. Don’t forget to download and test your VPN before you arrive in China to make sure it works and you understand how to use.
Check out a list of the sites that you will not have access to here.
You may be able to use you phone in China if your contract provides international roaming services, but note that international roaming can be quite expensive, so you should consult your provider beforehand. If your phone is unlocked, you can switch out your home SIM card for a pre-paid Chinese SIM card for about 50-100 RMB. You can find these SIM cards in airport shops (expensive), metro stations, or streetside stalls and convenience stores. Plus, you can refill as necessary.
Skype and FaceTime are also options if you are connected to a wireless network. You can use Skype for very low rates and FaceTime is free, but be aware that sometimes the connection is spotty as internet service in China is slow.
You will soon learn it is best to carry cash in Shanghai as most places will not accept credit/debit cards. Before you leave, consider exchanging some of your home currency into RMB. This will help you avoid long lines at the airport and some paperwork. You can also use your home credit/debit card to withdraw RMB at Chinese banks and ATMs once you arrive; most ATMs accept Visa & Mastercard debit cards. Withdrawal fees depends on banks but can be up to $10USD per withdrawal, so check with your bank before getting hit with surprise fees. Also, don’t forget to tell your bank you will be traveling in China so that they do not put a hold on your account.
Now you are all ready for your trip to Shanghai! Head to the airport (don’t miss your flight) and have a safe journey! We will see you after your flight!