Getting Around in Shanghai
The easiest way to get around in Shanghai is to use its efficient and affordable public transport system, which includes the Shanghai Metro and public buses.
Public transport in Shanghai is more than sufficient to get expats to where they need to go and, thanks to severe congestion and a complex road system, it's generally advised that expats avoid driving in Shanghai.
Public transport in Shanghai
It is relatively easy to navigate Shanghai's subway and bus systems. Both display their destinations in English and Mandarin, although only the subway has announcements in English.
The Shanghai Public Transportation Card (known as jiao tong ka) can be used to travel on buses, the metro, and even some taxis, and is recommended for those planning on regularly using Shanghai's public transport. These can be bought at certain convenience stores and any metro station for a small deposit, and money can be loaded onto the card at metro stations.
The bus system in Shanghai is extensive and established, although the buses are older and slower than the newer subway system. A list of routes in English can be found online and at some stations as drivers usually don't speak English.
The Shanghai Metro has a number of established lines, with several more under construction. Most signs and announcement are in Mandarin and English, so the system is easy to use for expats travelling in Shanghai.
Those that don’t want to use a transport card, can also get day pass cards for the metro. At newer stations, these can only be bought at automatic vending machines. At rush hour, be prepared for a crush of people on the more popular lines.
Taxis in Shanghai
Taxis in Shanghai are affordable for short distances, but as most drivers only speak Chinese, foreign passengers will need to make sure that they either carry a business card of somewhere near where they want to go or get a local person to write out the address in Chinese.
It is best to ask to go to the nearest big landmark or intersection to the final destination, as Shanghai is a huge city and drivers may get lost if a passenger is travelling outside of their home turf.
Taxis are metered and are colour co-ordinated according to the taxi company.
Bicycles and scooters in Shanghai
Scooters, including electric motorbikes or “E-bikes”, are a cheap and popular method of getting around Shanghai, and are even available in supermarkets. However, these can be dangerous in Shanghai’s chaotic traffic.
Bicycles are not always allowed on China’s major roads, so can be unsuitable for long distances. They also cannot be ridden in the underground tunnels beneath the river, or on the bridges – to cross town cyclists have to use the ferry between the Bund and Pudong, and even then only fold-up bicycles are allowed.
Driving in Shanghai
As in other large cities in China, owning a car and driving in Shanghai is probably best avoided. The road system and traffic laws in this sprawling city are complex, while the public transport system is efficient and comprehensive enough that expats often won't need a car to get to where they want to go.
Chinese traffic laws are often very different to Western ones and, as a result, to many expats it seems that there are simply no rules at all. Road deaths in China amount to about a quarter of a million people a year. Parking spaces are often impossible to find, and commuting in the never-ending rush-hour traffic is a nightmare best avoided, if possible.
Those that do want to own and drive a car in Shanghai will need to get a driving licence for China. International Driver’s Permits (IDPs) are not recognised in mainland China, which means that foreign residents need to convert their home country driver’s licence or IDP to a Chinese licence.
Usually drivers need to successfully complete a theory test and physical test, and won’t actually need to retake their driver’s test. This can be done at a Chinese traffic department office and at some airports.