Help me getting shanghaied!
June 15, 2009 7:27 AM   Subscribe

I am contemplating an offer to work and live in Shanghai. From where I'm standing now, the job looks fantastic and the whole situation looks like a long and deep wish come true. This question is basically about the cost of living in Shanghai for a family with two kids.

This is not a standard expat situation, where there are corporate programs that take care of the families and their needs. The company I'm going to work for is an ambitious, but relatively small operation, so this means I have to take care of a lot of things concerning my family.
My biggest concern is the cost of the education of my kids and the cost of health insurance. I've been in a situation like this before when I went to Tokyo. I was offered a job that paid very well - until I found out that sending my kids to an international school basically took care of my monthly income.

Are there any mefites around that had to deal with this situation? My son is 10 years old and my daughter is almost 13. What would be a rough estimate for an annual income to get by in Shanghai? And what would be the best online community for expat and Shanghai noobs, like myself, where I can start worrying about the details?
posted by ouke to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One of the hidden costs of living in a large city in China is the air pollution. Exposing your kids to this can lead to asthma and other conditions. Also, when you get home in the evening you'll find your nose and sinuses full of black gunk. Think New York City or LA on a very smoggy day, times 50.
posted by Merlin144 at 8:31 AM on June 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hi Ouke,

I see you are from Amsterdam; I'm assuming that the job offer includes a salary paid in Euros, and one that is commensurate with a salary similar to your current salary? If this is the case, I would not worry about the cost of living in Shanghai. The only thing you'll be experiencing is a tremendous increase in your purchasing power, and therefore, lifestyle.

China is very cheap. Language teachers live quite comfortably there, making around $15,000 yearly. (My friends took cabs everywhere, had cleaning ladies, ate out frequently, drank plenty, and still managed to save.)

Obviously you'll have some additional schooling expenses. I lived in Suzhou. The premier expat school in Suzhou was the Suzhou-Singapore International School. The tuition expenses for this school can be found here. With the current exchange rate, you will be looking at spending 11,000 euros/year per child. Not cheap, but certainly cheaper than a private school in the U.S.

Health care varies greatly, depending on whether you are willing to use the Chinese system (in Shanghai, perfectly fine for routine issues, and very cheap) or whether you will rely exclusively on Western style private hospitals.

Check out for a good general guide. The Shanghaiist is a good blog to keep up to date on expat news and events.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:52 AM on June 15, 2009

Shanghai is the most corrupt city in the world.

I believe JG Ballard said that. I believe he also kind of liked the place, having grown up there, and knowing his generally subversive take on things, would quite heartily encourage your decision to move your family there.

Good luck.
posted by philip-random at 10:26 AM on June 15, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the suggestions so far! I will probably spend the better part of the day clicking away on the websites that HabeasCorpus mentioned. Of course I have to get into the nitty gritty of all this, but your answer is quite a relief. Merlin144: I won't go there with my family without having checked the circumstances first. Mrs. ouke has been there before and she didn't notice it a couple of years ago, but that was a hotel to hotel business situation. Philip-random: mmm. Your suggestion makes me even more curious. I've never been to Shanghai, but from the stories I've heard I always thought of Shanghai as a successful asian version of Marseille. Nasty, smelly, corrupt. I can't wait.
You guys are all wonderful, thanks again.
posted by ouke at 12:18 PM on June 15, 2009

Best answer: Try too. The site is primarily geared towards chinese language learning but there is a great deal of information about moving, living, and general transitioning to life in China in general.

Good luck! Having lived in China and also travelled to Shanghai, I see it as a challenging but exciting place to live and raise a family.

(I hope you are being ironic philip-random. No way is Shanghai the most corrupt city in the world. While China certainly is not squeaky clean in business or government dealings, it is not the MOST corrupt, not when there are countries like Somalia or Haiti. It seems Ballard was referring to his childhood experience in pre/post WWII Shanghai, not 2009 Shanghai. A lot has changed in 70 years.)
posted by kitkatcathy at 12:35 PM on June 15, 2009

health insurance for four about USD10k a year, the kids schooling is USD20k each for full international school ("the American School"or less for Singapore-run international school, or less still for fake local-run international school. rent for a small new flat in a normal place for you to live is USD1500k a month or about USD4k a month for a much bigger place.
posted by priorpark17 at 11:30 PM on June 15, 2009

Response by poster: kitkatcathy: the forum you suggested conveniently complements the earlier mentioned communities. Plus, it revolves around one of my major concerns: learning the language. priorpark17, thanks for the ballpark figures.
posted by ouke at 11:51 PM on June 15, 2009

Ouke The children will be fine they will be at school. You will be fine you will be at work. The problem usually comes with your partner. They will not get a work permit and so will have to fill very long days in a somewhat alien environment.
posted by priorpark17 at 9:21 AM on June 16, 2009

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