10 Things my first months of Living in China has Taught me

10 Things my first months of Living in China has Taught me

Moving halfway across the world to live and work abroad is always a big challenge, but also hands down my favourite way to explore this amazing world. I’m still feel new to Shanghai, China but reflecting on the experiences and lessons I’ve learned in this short period of time I know this has been a good move. I moved to China with the idea of living here for a year, but one month in I realised that I would definitely be living here for longer. Now two years late I have signed another two year work contract.

Here are some important things I have learned so far while living and working in Shanghai, China.

1. WeChat is Everything

The mobile phone is king in China and you will be lost without a smartphone. I had my smartphone unlocked before I moved to China and downloaded WeChat the Chinese version of Whatsapp. But that’s just the beginning, because WeChat is your life. Chinese people actually don’t use regular text messages, they just use WeChat to text, send voice messages and even to send actual documents as attachments. I have also embraced WeChat pay which you can use to pay for almost anything, so I don’t need to carry cash with me here in Shanghai. Even the tiny hole-in-the-wall places has a QR code that you can scan to pay with WeChat. Other than WeChat you need a smart phone to order taxis, food delivery and train or plane tickets by using different apps on your phone. You also need your mobile phone to access the shared bikes here in Shanghai which makes life so much easier.

You need wechat to connect to some shared bike apps. Shared bikes are the best way to explore Shanghai.

2. Free VPNs Will Not Cut It for Internet Usage

If you want to access sites and apps like Facebook, Google, Gmail, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, Netflix, Tinder, and more, you’ll need a VPN. It is a virtual private network which allows you to access sites that are blocked here in China. I am so glad that I was warned about this before moving to china. The going rate tends to be about $50-$100 USD per year for a functioning VPN. Trust me, the free ones might work for a week or so but in the long run you realize how lost you are without access to the big world wide web without a VPN.

3. In winter, AlWAYS go well wrapped up to restaurants and cafes

I wish someone had told me that, due to a government decree, there is no central heating in public buildings south of the Yangtze river. This policy was intended to bring about huge savings in energy costs. Just a few miles to the north of Shanghai, the public buildings are toasty warm throughout the winter. However, in Shanghai itself, we are expected to happily shiver through freezing winter temperatures whenever we leave our houses.

4. Invest in a proper face-mask as Surgical Masks Don’t Do Anything

When I moved to China I had no idea what the pollution level was. I have seen images of very polluted days in China, often accompanied by photos of people in surgical masks. I thought these might be rare occurrences but soon found out that this is quite common during the colder months. Forget the surgical masks, they are great for keeping yourself from getting sick on a crowded subway, but they will not work for the pollution at all. What you need is a 3M mask that will protect you from PM2.5. Don’t worry, you will be able to buy one here in China, and they even come in funky colours!

Janaline in Shanghai!

5. Buy an Air Purifier, your lungs will thank you

The media emphasizes wearing a mask outside, but let’s be honest, if it’s really polluted, you’re probably staying indoors. This is an option I have opted for a couple of times so far this winter. Unfortunately the pollution filters into our houses and I have woken up coughing more than once on heavily polluted days. I now know that it is very important to invest in a good air purifier for your apartment if you plan on living here for a while.

6. Fitted Sheets Are Not Popular

I never really thought twice about my sheets. While I like to sleep with soft and comfortable blankets, my bottom sheet never concerned me all that much. Well, over my lifetime I’ve become very accustomed to fitted sheets, and I was shocked to find that China does not share my love for fitted sheets. After searching a bit online I eventually found a place that sold them. But next time I am definitely bringing some from home!

7. Coffee Is Expensive

While many of the foreign restaurants are only expensive by comparison, imported foods and coffee are much more expensive than they are back home. Thanks to China’s tariffs, you can expect to pay up to two or three times the original price for items like coffee, cheese, peanut butter, and cereal.Coffee is seen as a luxury in China, and many coffee shops price the drink accordingly. I was shocked to find that I could buy an entire meal for half the price of a tiny latte.

Try out the different flower teas you can find in Shanghai, it is tasty and a healthy alternative to coffee!

8. Bring Your Own Sunscreen

I was warned before moving to China that sunscreen isn’t very common here. Most people in China cover up to avoid the sun’s harmful rays so sunscreen tends to be sold in small bottles and is super pricey. In China you will also find the term “whitening” on your sunscreen along with most facial moisturisers. So I have brought my own, as personally I am very nervous about using a product that will end up bleaching my skin.

9. Don’t Flush Your Toilet Paper

While I knew about squat toilets, no one ever told me not to flush my toilet paper. Next to every toilet you’ll find a small basket for you to throw your used paper. Chinese pipes aren’t equipped to handle non-organic waste, so you may find your toilet clogged if you try flushing your paper one too many times. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.

Many public restrooms also don’t have toilet paper or soap, so you’ll probably want to bring some hand sanitizer from home and pick up a mini pack of tissues when you arrive.

10. “That’s so China” Is an expression you will also end up using

Being open-minded is so important, as cliché as it may sound take everything with a pinch of salt and remember that you are a guest in another country. What you may see as the cultural or social norm will most likely be different, once you learn and adapt to living as a ‘guest’ in another country you will enjoy the experience a lot more. A saying that has stuck with me and can only be fully understood by individuals who have experienced travelling or living in China is to “expect the unexpected” and “that’s so China”. As soon as you think you have seen it all, whether it’s something new or shocking, positive and/or negative something else will occur making you say “that’s so China”.

Living in Shanghai, China
Drying chickens with the laundry on a sidewalk next to a busy street…..only in China!

China is a complicated country with a long history, and living here has been positive and negative all in one. I have experienced and accepted some of the ‘negatives’ to living and working in this big city but still love the country as the positives out shine any of the negatives. I think the surprise of discovering new things every day has made my life here an adventure. The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to arrive in China with an open mind. China is so large and complex, discovering new aspects of life and culture are just part of the fun!

Don’t let your fears and apprehensions hold you back from the adventure of moving to China.


  1. I’ve been in Asia/China for many years and your article is 100% spot-on, Janaline! Since you’re familiar with Wechat, and you obviously enjoy writing, please let me know if you’d like to do a quick podcast interview. You can check out my blog to see what I’m doing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating insight. I’ve never been to China but there’s a few things I knew in this list and a few I didn’t. I’ll keep in mind the latter when I eventually get there 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a fun list that took me right back to my visit to Shanghai. It IS so China!!! Unlike you Janaline, I loved our visit but don’t honestly think I could live there primarily due to the pollution. Your suggestions for what to bring are spot on!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much Tina!! The polution gets quite bad during the winter months because of all the coal burning to heat up houses. Which is quite sad, hopefully they can lesson their coal use in the future and do gas heating or some other alternative.


  4. All the best for yr time there. I loved Shanghai tho I was only there for a week and lucky in that we had no issues w pollution.
    I feel nothing is as it seems in China and so the extremes in terms of acceptable behaviour, the contradictions btwn the super rich and the rest who will always be poor…. mmm!Enjoy!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I spent a day on a layover in Shanghai and we got a guide to take us around the city. He said we were being targeted by pickpockets and pushing some sketchy looking people away from us so it was a pretty rough first experience. But we’ll be heading to a suburb of Beijing this fall so hopefully it goes well. Glad you had a good time in Shanghai!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. All that glorious red in the first photographs ill-prepared me for the rest! The colour is so vibrant and your photos really are great. Great that you are enjoying all the experiences. Keep on trucking!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Really enjoyed this read. I think the main thing holding me back from visiting there would be hygiene. I’ve heard a lot of people get sick shortly after arriving. That mouse didn’t help. 😉. I also can’t believe they don’t have fitted sheets. I’m glad you are settling in well and wish you luck with your endeavours there. John

    Liked by 4 people

    • Funny about the fitted sheets. Martha Stewart used to not approve of fitted sheets and the reality is a loose sheet really does stay in place when used as a bottom sheet. She (Martha) only started using them when she started selling them. lol

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you!! I have stayed in some other Asian countries as well, and unfortunately our bodies take a while to adapt to the new food. So yes, I also experienced the whole getting sick my first month but my body has addapted and I do try and stay clear of any very weird dishes. If ou are scared of the food you could always stay with western dishes, although that would be a lot more expensive in the long run.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s such an interesting fact to hear they don’t have fitted sheets haha You think something like that would be universal but so good to know ahead of visiting or moving there! And hopefully if you get sick at first then it just strengthens your immune system in the long run? Just trying to stay optimistic haha 🙂


  7. My husband has travelled extensively and done business in China for many years and he said this was a great list. He uses WeChat to communicate with his clients.

    Liked by 2 people

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