Shanghai Arrival Guide Part 1: Pre-Departure

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!

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.

Metro Guides

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.  

Didi Chuxing

Uber was purchased by local car hailing app Didi Chuxing in 2016, and the new owners promptly made it impossible for foreigners to use Uber in China. It’s now a completely different app than the one you use elsewhere in the world.

But the good news is Didi Chuxing has an English language option. Search your local country’s app store for “Didi Chuxing” to find it, and set up payment details by adding credit cards before you leave.

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 extremely high pollution, avoid walking or spending too much time outside. Also, think about bringing a purifying mask along with you or purchasing a 3M mask from most convenient stores in the city. 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 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

Read Up

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

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.    

Phone Service

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.


If you don’t have access to Wechat or Alipay payments (you’ll need to connect a Chinese bank account), 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 hope to see you after your flight!

Part 1 of 3 – Pre-Departure Guide
Part 2 of 3 – Airport to Hotel Guide
Part 3 of 3 – Avoiding ProblemsFollow UnTourFoodTours on WeChat

Shanghai Arrival Guide Part 2: Airport to Hotel Travel Options
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