Home Shanghai Guide Shanghai Overview
Shanghai Overview

Discover Shanghai with iReloChina

Emigrating to a new country involves a real transformation:professionally, socially and individually. From the moment you accept your assignment, you will be mentally preparing yourself to be immersed in a new environment and culture. Everything from the food and language to societal values and work life will be something new for which you need to adapt. iReloChina is here to help with a smooth transition to the new chapter of your life in China.

Shanghai Overview

For many expats, moving to Shanghai is an opportunity to experience a country that's both rich in history and focused on the future. Thanks to its rapid growth over the past three decades, China continues to attract foreigners with special skills and advanced education. Whether they're moving to Shanghai for business or adventure, China’s unfamiliar culture, high population density and the language barrier can be challenging for new arrivals. However, Shanghai is also one of the most comfortable cities in the world for expats who make the adjustment.


Situated on the banks of the Yangtze River delta on China's east coast, Shanghai has been a major port of trade and commerce since the tenth century. Today, the city remains one of China's most important financial and cultural centers.

Administrative Districts

Shanghai is one of four provincial level municipalities in the People’s Republic of China, and is further divided into 16 districts. The urban core is scattered across several districts and split in two by the Huangpu River: Pudong (East of the Huangpu River) and Puxi (West of the Huangpu River).

Pudong is the most recently developed district. It is home to one of China’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and the iconic Lujiazui skyline, whose skyscrapers house some of the largest financial institutions and insurance companies in the world.

The Bund lies on the historic Puxi side in the Huangpu district, overlooking Pudong’s business district. Along with the Bund, Huangpu district is where you can find city hall and famous shopping areas including Nanjing Road, Huaihai Road, and Xintiandi.

More business and shopping areas can be found at Xujiahui in Xuhui District, Jing'an Temple in Jing'an District, Hongqiao in Changning District, Wujiaochang in Yangpu District, and North Sichuan Road in Hongkou District. Western Shanghai is home to Hongqiao and Gubei, zones full of hotels, conference centers, offices, and expat residential areas. North-eastern Shanghai is more industrial, and home to several universities; farther northwest is Shanghai Rail Station. Many universities in Shanghai are located in Yangpu, Minhang, and Songjiang Districts. While this may seem overwhelming right now, don’t worry: navigating Shanghai’s many districts and streets is made easy by Shanghai’s comprehensive subway system and pinyin labeled street signs.


With a metropolitan area of 3,875 square miles (10,036 sq. kilometers) and an estimated population of over 24 million, Shanghai is the most populous city in China and one of the largest cities in the world. In recent years, domestic migration and immigration has led to rapid population growth. Between 2005 and 2016, the number of foreigners with residence permits jumped a whopping 81%. According to the Bureau of Statistics of Shanghai, the city is home to some 175,674 foreigners. Every year more and more foreigners come to Shanghai for short and long term stay, primarily for business or study.


Shanghai has a subtropical climate, but is punctuated by four distinct seasons: A warm spring, a hot rainy summer, a comfortable cool autumn, and an overcast cold winter. The city’s location at the estuary of the Yangtze River to the East China Sea makes the city so wet that it rains for about one third of the year. Annual precipitation is around 1200 mm, or 47 inches.

Summers are warm and humid and last a long time (from June to September). Temperatures are highest in July and August, with highs reaching 40°C (104°F). From late August through early September, it is common for typhoons and rainstorms to sweep across the city. During this period, be sure to keep your eye on the forecast so you don’t forget to bring an umbrella and wear appropriate footwear!

Autumn is usually short, with Summer lasting late or Winter starting early. When things finally start to cool off in October and November, it is a lovely time to visit parks or walk around the Former French Concession, whose tree-lined streets are a beautiful sight with striking red, yellow, and orange leaves.

Winters are cold with temperatures sometimes dipping below 0°C (32°F), although it rarely snows. It does, however, continue to rain through December. The coldest period is from late January to early February, which gives way to a comfortable Spring. From March to May the average high temperature is 19°C (66°F).


Shanghai, which literally means “The City on the Sea,” was an important sea port for most of its history. After the Opium Wars (1843-1850), large parts of the city were conceded as a treaty port to the British, Americans, and French. During the colonial period, Shanghai became Mainland China’s center of business, and one of the most modern cities in Asia. This not only attracted foreign business people (60,000 by the 1930s) but also domestic migrants. Shanghai quickly gained worldwide recognition for its unique culture, becoming a center not only for trade, but for music and the arts as well—earning it the nickname “Paris of the East.”

Throughout the 1930s and 40s, the city weathered raids, invasions, then outright occupation by the Japanese. By 1943, at the height of World War II, most foreigners had fled the city and the Japanese army had taken over much of the city. The Communists declared victory in 1949 and established the People's Republic of China, after which the few remaining foreigners left the country.

The decades from 1950 to 1980 passed by with one Five Year Plan after another, as a newly unified China found its economic foothold. Shanghai's industries soldiered on during these years, and the city remained the largest contributor of tax revenue to the central government. Twenty years later, the 14th Party Congress endorsed the concept of a socialist market economy, opening the door ever wider to foreign investment. Nowadays, this international metropolis is a major influential economic power in the world and undoubtedly an economic, cultural, and technological capital of China.