Yes, there are many challenges to life as an expat...especially for an expat in Shanghai, China. Pollution, internet frustrations, trying to read those thousands of characters and perfect your tones, and the overwhelming noise and traffic of 24+ million people. But, really, let's be honest, we have it easy as Shanghai expats. Incredibly easy in many ways. Some of this is just thanks to modern tech that has generally made life easier as an expat or traveler, but there are many unique (and ever-changing) conveniences in Shanghai that make up for the lack of Google Maps and Translate.
Here are my top five Shanghai expat lifesavers (particularly geared to those of us with limited Chinese skills):
WeChat: The indispensable communications app that does so much more. First, you need it to get or keep in touch with anyone here (calling or texting is so old-fashioned!). With the ubiquitous use of WeChat, I now end up connecting with every Tom, Dick and Harry (or Xu, Apple and Dolphin) because we can easily translate each other's messages and not deal with messy attempts at phone calls. It's how I make my haircut appointments and was the only way I could negotiate with my gym a couple months ago. Group chats are used for planning every event (and laughing at all the resulting pics). Everywhere you go there's a QR code to scan so you can keep updated on the latest happenings, receive discounts, login to wifi, make appointments and more.
WeChat Wallet: Ok, yes, more WeChat love. But, this one deserves a separate mention. It’s (relatively) easy to set up (make sure you know the exact way your name is written on your bank account, and that this phone # is listed on that account). And, once you have it set up you won’t know how you lived without it. Just a short list of things I did using WeChat wallet recently: received money from a student, topped up my mobile phone, bought dinner, paid for groceries and a Taobao order, bought event tickets and paid my electric bill. Just another way you can avoid leaving the house when Shanghai feels a bit overwhelming! And, just wait until you receive some random hongbao money at Chinese New Year.
BonApp: Since this app arrived, I have been one happy camper (eater). It makes searching for restaurants in English easy and has a great review community. Besides reading reviews (local friends tell me they trust it more than the Chinese app, Dianping) you can check out the hours of the place, special deals, and the nearest metro stop and location (on a great map, in English!!!). You can save a wishlist of places you want to check out to refer back to when you're stuck in that rut of going to your old favorite too often. Plus, they have Deals and Meets so you can check out cool new places and special events. And, for many of the restaurants you can make a reservation right from the app via Chope (I’ve yet to try out Chope directly, but it works great via BonApp).
Sherpas: The classic savior of all lazy Shanghai expats. Other English-language food delivery sites have popped up, but this is still the best for service and the huge array of restaurants. Tip: order during happy hour (2 pm-6 pm) for free delivery! Seriously, if you’re not a Shanghai expat you probably don’t know the beauty of sitting home in your PJs, browsing through hundreds of restaurants, picking anything you fancy and getting it delivered free in about 45 minutes (and, you can also order booze and even cigarettes…clearly this could bring down the world if it went worldwide). I was so lazy (or productive?) that I ordered a cup of coffee the other day. There are many other great specialty delivery services for wine, specific foods, etc. that also make life in Shanghai great (shout out to Spread the Bagel!). Food from the Hood is the next one on my radar.
Kate and Kimi: Of course, you can get your groceries delivered in Shanghai (I can’t think of any category of item someone won’t bring to your home here) and you have tons of options. There are bargains to be had at the big stores (Carrefour, Yi Hou Dian), if you can navigate Chinese (even if you don’t, a lot of people manage it with some help setting their account up initially). But, as a Shanghai expat sometimes you need those comforting tastes of home. Darn those cravings for that ridiculously priced cereal or cheese! My #1 online grocery store is Kate and Kimi. They have a good selection (and many items I can’t find elsewhere) but the best is their BSK fresh selections and all the local "foodpreneurs" they promote. I am in love with their salads and chopped veggie kits as well as the meatballs and stews for quick dinners. Read my more detailed post reviewing Kate and Kimi favorites.
And, a bonus 6th: My newest favorite is Baopals, a simple way to shop on Taobao and your gateway into a world of goods. Check out more about Baopals and get a coupon to try it out here.