Shanghai is China’s most developed and international city, which makes it a breeze to travel to…mostly. If you’re heading to Shanghai or China soon, be it for an study exchange semester, for summer school, work, or simply for a visit to find out what all the fuss regarding Shanghai is about, we recommend that you take note of the following points so as to make your experience as carefree and fun as it can possibly be.
- Applying for your Study Exchange Visa – A bureaucratic pain, but absolutely necessary
Depending on where you’re from, what you’re in China for, or how long you plan to be in China, most of us would need a visa of some kind to enter the country.
Chinese visa policies have gone through some changes lately, with visa-on-arrival options for stays of less than 144 hours in major Chinese cities, including Shanghai. However, if coming for an exchange semester or summer school you probably intend to stay in the country for more than 144 hours, or if you intend to travel to smaller cities or more rural areas not covered by this policy, you will need to plan ahead and arrange for a visa at your nearest Chinese Embassy before travelling to China.
You should first check the official website of your local Chinese embassy to see what the application procedure is, as well as what the necessary documents are. This might differ from embassy to embassy. You will probably also need to arrange for a visa appointment slot at the embassy to submit your visa application.
If you are going to China for study exchange, or for a shorter-term summer school programme affiliated with an academic institution, the institution should supply you with all the documents you will need to apply for a student exchange visa.
But if you’re just coming to China as a tourist, the visa application process is even more straightforward. All you have to do is to disclose your travel itinerary (including proof of flights to/from China and accommodation) to the Chinese embassy and fill in the visa application form for tourists.
In any case, if you plan ahead and follow instructions, getting the right visa on time should be a painless and quick process.
- Finding a place to stay
If you are coming to Shanghai for a study exchange trip, there are two main accommodation options to choose from: university dorms or private apartments.
The students’ dorms at your university would be the cheaper option and would give you a glimpse into local Chinese student life. The more people in your room the more affordable. You are likely to meet tons of people from all around the country and the world! The best part is, you will probably stay a stone’s throw away from your classrooms and lecture halls, as well as affordable canteens on campus.
Staying in a (shared) private apartment, on the other hand, will give you more privacy, but will also cost you much more. Housing, especially in central Shanghai can be very pricey. For the price-conscious, student dorms are the way to go, otherwise, make the most out of the fancy Chinese condominium life!
If you’re travelling short-term, we recommend that you go for hotels or hostels. When choosing a hotel, try not to choose hotels under 40€ a night/room to avoid possible unpleasant experiences. International hostels are usually fun and offer cultural experiences or day trips at the reception. It’s also a great place to meet fellow travellers and to share experiences!
Home-sharing sites are popular all around the world, but in China, any foreigner arriving to the country must register his/her residence at the local police station within 24 hours of arrival. While hotels and hostels will take care of this for you, in the case of renting from a home-sharing site, the landlord will have to visit the police station together with you. Unfortunately, most of them will decline to do so, as they are likely to not have the legal permissions to rent out the room/apartment to tourists. If you choose to rent accommodation via a home-sharing site, you might run the risk of not being able to register as the law implies.
- Being prepared for medical emergencies, big and small
While we certainly hope you will not have the need to deal with health-related issues during your study exchange in Shanghai, it is best if you are prepared for it. Y’know, Murphy’s law and all that jazz.
Being China’s richest city, Shanghai has plenty of good local and international hospitals and clinics. Most of the local hospitals have a small international department with English-speaking staff. If you end up at a private clinic, the staff there are likely to be educated abroad and have a good grasp of the English-language. In big international cities such as Shanghai, there should be little trouble with getting all the medical services you might need.
Should you require medical assistance, contact your insurance provider first (assuming you have travel insurance because you should always travel with it!), and ask them if they are working with any specific hospital or clinic before heading there. Otherwise, you will have to pay first and keep the receipts for reimbursement later. In this case, as the price is more of an issue – local hospitals tend to be more budget-friendly as compared to international ones.
- Getting to and departing from Shanghai
Shanghai has two main airports. Most of the flights arriving from abroad will arrive at the Pudong International Airport, the larger of the two. Pudong International Airport is about an hour’s drive from the city center. The most efficient way to get from the airport to the city is by taxi, which is relatively cheap (compared to Europe or the USA).
A word of caution though: Upon exiting the arrival gates, there will be several fake “airport employees” claiming to be official employees preying on first-time visitors to China. These fake, unregistered taxi services are known as “black taxis”, and will in the best case scenario, grossly overcharge you for the ride. Avoid being scammed by only following the official airport signs to the official taxi queue. All Chinese airports should have a well-organized official taxi queue, where taxis will charge by the meter. To make the journey smoother, have the address of your destination prepared in Chinese in advance.
If you’re in a hurry, there is no faster way than to take the famous Shanghai maglev train into town. Going up to an incredible 430 kilometers per hour, the Shanghai maglev train is the fastest commercial high-speed electric train in the world! The train will take you to Longyang Road metro station on Line 2, where you can reach your final destination in a matter of minutes.
The most cost-efficient way, however, would be by Shanghai Metro – the largest subway system on the planet. Line 2 will take you directly to the city center and beyond, to the Hongqiao Airport and High-speed Railway station, a major transportation hub. If you are planning to continue your study exchange semester and travels to other parts of China, the Hongqiao Airport and High-speed Railway station, alongside Shanghai Railway Station, will probably be where you depart from.
- Managing your Ren Min Bi
The official currency of the People’s Republic of China is the Renminbi (RMB). Exchanging your home currency for RMB can be tricky, and above all, expensive. We suggest that you just withdraw local currency from an ATM when you arrive in China and have some euros or dollars with you as a backup. You can exchange currency at banks, but be sure to bring your passport along with you.
Cash withdrawal in China is quite a simple process, as most ATMs offer English service and instructions. To be on the safe side, use ATMs of bigger banks such as the Bank of China, HCBC, ICBC, China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China and China Merchants Bank.
- Getting acquainted with the history of the country.
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.
Understanding a city’s history will help you open your heart to the city’s present, and what you make of it. A general understanding of Shanghai and China’s history and culture will not only help you respect the locals and their culture, but also enhance your experience in the city and country as a traveller or exchange student.
Shanghai’s history left a strong impact on the city it is today. Its present was moulded by centuries of Chinese Imperial rule, the time of the western concessions, and lately, China’s meteoric rise. History can be felt in every corner of the city and is especially noticeable where the old and modern meld into one. French Concession, The Bund, Hongkou, Shikumen (traditional house alleys), are some of the terms you should be familiar with before you even step into the city.
- Prepare yourself for the mobile era and the Great Firewall of China
We might think that we’re pretty advanced using cards instead of cash, well, China has taken cashless living to a whole new level. Cash and credit cards are a thing of the past, as transactions in China now are often done using a mobile phone using applications like WeChat and Alipay. It is often said that in China, people can leave their homes without their wallets, but not without their phones.
The Chinese have all kinds of phone apps for everything. But because most of the apps are in the Chinese language, we recommend that you start off by downloading the Pleco dictionary and Baidu translate apps. Another app you absolutely cannot do without is WeChat – Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, food delivery service, mobile banking app all in one. Formal professional emails have given way to WeChat messages. We have written more about the must-have mobile applications you should have before you leave for China over here.
[11 Applications you’ll absolutely need if you study abroad in China. ]
The most important thing you’ll need before coming to China, if you want to maintain some semblance of social life back home, is to download a reliable VPN. Western internet platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Google are blocked in China by what is jokingly referred to as the Great Firewall of China, and can only be accessed if you have a VPN.
- Pack appropriately
If you’re coming for study exchange to Shanghai in the summer months, brace yourself for extremely hot and humid weather. Bring clothes of thin, breathable fabric, a hat, a handheld fan, and an umbrella or poncho for the unpredictable summer downpours. However, don’t forget to bring a sweater or two as well, as air-conditioning on metro trains and indoors can be set as low as 16 degrees Celsius (for some reason).
Winter, on the other hand, can be bitingly cold. A proper winter jacket is necessary, for the cold winter winds can be very nasty. It will be important to check that your accommodation has a proper heating system in place.
Our favourite seasons to visit are Autumn and Spring, but incredible summer evenings are what we really live for. Just imagine enjoying a cocktail on one of Shanghai’s many rooftop bars, chilling to some great music and feeling the occasional summer breeze ruffle your hair.
Lastly, if you’re thinking of partying it up in Shanghai, be sure to also pack some fancier clothing, because many clubs and even bars in Shanghai have strict dress codes, as they are places to see and be seen. Bouncers are known to turn away people who they think are inappropriately dressed.
Shanghai Summer School strives to provide you with a summer experience unlike any other. The summer school is primarily about learning the Chinese language in an immersive way, but it’s also about going out and discovering a new culture and making meaningful connections with its people. We would even go as far as to say that delving headfirst into the bustling metropolis of Shanghai will allow one to adopt a new and expanded worldview, and a deeper understanding of cultures different than our own.
The knowledge of new languages combined with heightened cultural sensitivity and awareness has become ever more important in the global world we live in today.