Arriving in Shanghai will almost certainly be more daunting in theory than reality. Yes, it’s a big, bustling, massively urban place – but transport systems work well, crime is very low, taxis are affordable and English signposting is going to be everywhere you need it to be when you first hit the ground. Ideally someone will be meeting you at the airport; otherwise, plan ahead and have the full name and address of your hotel (or wherever you’re stay- ing) printed out in both English and Chinese characters. That will set you straight for taxi drivers, who are extremely unlikely to try to cheat you. If you’re not being met, consider taking the Maglev halfway into the city. It doesn’t get all the way to Puxi, but it’s the fastest way to start off the journey. Don’t do this during rush hour though, since getting a taxi upon arrival can be tricky and they may not want to drive you into town. And if you’ve got loads of luggage, just take a cab from the airport.
Get your logistics sorted out before you arrive here. Make sure you (and family members if they’re with you) have a map and the relevant addresses printed out, and play with Google Maps to see where you’ll be living or staying. It’s easy to get RMB from abroad now, and you might want to already have some cash when you arrive. Major overseas credit cards like Visa and MasterCard will serve you fine though, either for getting cash or paying in big restaurants or bars – make sure to check if you’re not sure, though. You’ll need cash for taxis – but when you get a chance, go into a Metro station and get a prepaid transport card (jiaotong ka). This works for subway, buses and taxis – even the Maglev to the airport – and saves you having to worry about fares and coins in the early days.
If you’re with your family, you may want to work out some kind of emergency plan, as much for peace of mind as anything else. Prepare an emergency folder listing all of your family’s medical conditions, allergies, medications and surgical histories. Make cards for your children to carry with them that list your home address and the address of your preferred hospital in both English and Chinese.
Make a few copies of the photo page and visa page of your pass- port before-hand – you’ll find they come in useful. For one, you have to register within 24 hours of arriving. If you’re staying at a hotel, they’ll do this for you and you don’t need to think about it. Otherwise, bring your passport and your copies to the nearest police station, and they’ll either handle it or direct you to the nearest one that does. If you mess this up, you won’t be deported, but you will be fined. Go in and show penitence, and if you’re only a few days late they may take pity on you and let you off the fine. Again, your company will help you with this if you’re being taken in hand from the start. Make sure you keep the Temporary Residence Permit you’ll be issued safe; you’ll need it again if you move house or when you apply for a new visa.
Get yourself tuned into the new time zone as soon as you can. This essentially means trying to stay up until a reasonable bedtime on the first day, setting your alarm for a decent hour the next day. Then avoid afternoon naps for a few days.
If you have free time in the first few days, it’s a great opportunity to have fun trying new food – but we all look for comfort food if we feel overwhelmed in a new city, so don’t give yourself a hard time if you feel this isn’t the moment to start experimenting or you’re feeling a bit jet lagged. If you want Italian, eat Italian! You can eat at the hotel, try one of the restaurants in this guide, or go online to Sherpa’s to get any cuisine you want delivered.
Shanghai is an international city full of friendly people delighted to help a foreigner in need, even through a language barrier. Rest assured that you’ll be fine.