For some Westerners, China’s largest city (by most estimates) conjures a romantic vision of steamer trunks and junk ships making their way across the Yangtze River. But the days of opium dens and trading houses on the Bund have been replaced with a modern, supersized metropolis whose skyline reaches higher every day. Living here means living on the edge of China’s future and moving at the speed of light.
What is it known for?
Shanghai, China’s financial and cultural powerhouse, is located where the
Yangtze meets the sea. In the 19th Century it was the Middle Kingdom’s (one of
China’s many names) open face to the West and the trading
and commercial port for acquisitive nations like Great Britain, the US, France
and Germany, that were hungry to establish a foothold in the Orient. That
frontier and commercial spirit is still what attracts people from around the
world to live and work in this vibrant, ever-expanding megalopolis.
For fashion and fads, boutique hotels and big ideas, Shanghai is the
place to be. It is the most foreigner-friendly city in mainland China, where
the elite from both sides meet and mingle.
Where do you want to live?
The city is vast and dense, and the areas that are most popular are ones with a
human scale or with open, green space, which is a premium in the city. Many
expats rent, especially those who have a housing budget from their company, but
often the second generation of Chinese who emigrated to other countries return
to buy property here.
The French Concession near the downtown area is popular for its retail,
stores and café life. The Xin Tian Di district has older, well-preserved
housing stock of “lane houses”, the two-story brick structures that are very
popular to live in. Another popular neighbourhood downtown is Jing An, for its restaurants,
bars and nightlife, as well as its access to public transport.
For those looking for
more space, areas of Pudong across the river are popular, especially near
Century Park. Families looking for houses, not apartments, might want to
consider Hongqiao or Songjiang west, and south of the city centre for their Western-style
developments with green space. “These areas are popular for families with
children who want to be close to schools like the American school,” said
Catherine Lee, managing director F&T Group, a real estate company “There
are gated communities with villas and townhouses.”
“It really depends on what kind of experience you want,” Lee explained.
“Shanghai is very foreigner friendly and you can live only with expats or you
can live with the local Chinese.
The historic city of Hangzhou is a popular weekend getaway only 45 minutes from
Shanghai on the high-speed train. The area near the city’s famous West Lake was
made a Unesco World Heritage site in June. Another popular spot for weekend
trips, especially in the summer, is Moganshan in the mountains, with its bamboo
groves and once-grand villas of the foreigners who went there to escape the
Shanghai summers a century ago. “It’s very relaxing, with plenty of lodges to
stay in,” said Taylor Mork, who moved to the country six months ago. Closer to
Shanghai is Suzhou, famous for its canals and classical Chinese gardens, only
30 minutes away by train.
“Travel in China can be annoying with congestion, roads under
construction, train stations can be a total mess,” said Mork. “But when I have
the opportunity, I like to leave the region and go to a more unique place like
Yunnan in the south.”
For city breaks, flights from Shanghai to Tokyo are under three hours
and to Seoul are under two, while other Asian destinations such as Thailand’s Phuket
and Bali are around five or six hours.
Be aware that many listings you see online are fake. Real estate agents commonly
make this bait-and-switch to show you other properties. Neighbourhoods vary as much
as the quality of housing, so take your time hunting down listings.
A one- to two-bedroom apartment in a basic building in a desirable
location runs anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 rmb a month. The average cost to
buy in a good neighbourhood is 50,000 rmb per square metre, while a house is
70,000 per square metre, according to Brent Beisher, the founder of Build, a
property management and development company in Shanghai.
When renting, be sure to ask who is paying the broker’s fee; sometimes
it is split between the tenant and landlord. And also confirm that you will be
sent a receipt every month for your rent, important for reimbursement and tax
purposes. And in general, renters should be prepared to shop around, but move
quickly when they find an apartment they like.
The frenetic, frantic pace of Shanghai can take some adjustment, but it’s
worth it. “Get used to the speed,” said
Beisher. “It makes New York feel slow.”
Shanghai Daily: English-language
Smart Shanghai: nightlife, dining,
arts and events, listings and reviews
The French Concession: neighbourhood