- In order to visit Shanghai you will need to get a tourist visa beforehand. There are many agencies that can help you with this. I recommend doing this months before your visit so that you have enough time to prepare but also because it’s more expensive when you have to pay for expedited shipping and processing. I think my 10 year visa cost about $200 USD.
- There is a firewall which means you can’t access Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and many many other sites. I asked a lot of people whether they thought paying for a VPN was necessary and most people said YES. If you are fine unplugging from the western world, then sure you can probably pass on the VPN. I paid less than $15 for a month of ExpressVPN and it worked pretty well. If you have any questions about VPNs and about my experience using this service, feel free to email me or DM me.
- Cash isn’t king and you won’t need your credit card. Shanghai is so digitized now that everyone uses online forms of payment. Even in small markets they prefer using WeChat and other online payment. It’s instant and super simple. If you don’t have WeChat* or another app for payment then yes, you should get cash. Even locals barely use credit cards. *Okay, note about WeChat. You can’t just sign up for the app freely anymore – someone who is a verified user has to basically refer you. After many many tries I couldn’t get into my WeChat account so I didn’t use it in the end. I used my VPN and data on my phone to communicate with my family!
- BYOTP. There are still some bathrooms that don’t have toilet paper OR soap. Get used to carrying your own bathroom supplies because the last thing you want is to be stuck somewhere without them. Unless you are going to a really upscale area then it’s just better to be safe than sorry.
- Riding the subway is one of the fastest ways to get around Shanghai however it can be a confusing system. There are some English signs and they usually announce stops in English so just listen carefully. The bus is very affordable but it does take longer to get around this way. Lastly taxis are probably only worth it if you are going a long route that is not accessible by subway or if you have a lot of luggage with you. Traffic in Shanghai can be pretty bad so it’s not that speedy. If you do call a taxi, try calling one through an app because they are like Uber and don’t dictate their own prices. Some private taxi driver s will refuse to pick you up if the ride isn’t worth it to them or they will legitimately scam you. How do I know that? It has happened every time I’ve gone to Shanghai. And that’s with my mom who speaks the dialect fluently.
- Bargaining is just a way of life here. If you go shopping at any type of market you should negotiate the price and be comfortable with some back and forth. There are plenty of YouTube videos where people vlog themselves bargaining while shopping. It is super awkward and uncomfortable as an American but it’s kind of fun when you do end up getting a good deal!
- If it feels like a tourist trap, it probably is. Just like any other large city in the world, the places that tourists flock to are where the locals aren’t. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth visiting, but just know that there are lots of great places to hang out and eat that might not be all over social media. One of the places that comes to mind is Xintiandi. It’s interesting to see because of the old buildings of course but the fact there’s a lululemon and Din Tai Fung here shows it’s really just made for tourists and expats.
- There are a lot of different cuisines in Shanghai so you won’t have trouble finding sushi, burgers, pizza, etc. As tempting as it can be to try some of the foreign goods especially when they are really cute, I highly recommend trying the local food. Hole in the wall restaurants are really the best way to try the cuisine. Some favorites: anything Shanghainese breakfast like fried Chinese donut inside sticky rice, salty soymilk, soup dumplings, and sheng jian bao (pan fried soup dumplings). Ordering delivery is also super cheap and fast in Shanghai.
- The weather in June/July is pretty hot and humid. Combined with the smog, it’s slightly uncomfortable. This is also rainy season so it gets even more humid. Also, when it rains here, it pours so staying inside is pretty much the only option. During the whole week we saw the blue skies probably only two times!
Here are some photos taken from during our trip to Shanghai. You can see more on my saved Instagram highlight for Shanghai here too!