Traveling Tips in Shanghai


Phone Prefix

The country code for China is 86 and the area code for Shanghai is 21. For example 001 86 21 + Shanghai number if you are dialing from the US.

In China 00 is the prefix for international long distance. If you are in Shanghai and need to call the US, dial 001 and then the US number because the country code for US is 1. To call Hong Kong while you are in Shanghai, dial 00852 + Hong Kong number. For domestic long distance, 0 is the prefix. So to call Guangzhou, dial 020 + Guangzhou number as 20 is the area code for Guangzhou,

Cell Phone Numbers

Many phone numbers in China consist of a long 11-digit number. These are numbers dedicated for cellular phones. For example, 13640206844. We can break the number into three parts, 136-4020-6844. The 136 or 13x in general identifies the carrier (now 159 too). The 4020 identifies where the phone number was created. The 6844 is the actual number assigned to an individual. If you call cellular phone within the same zone there is no need to dial any prefix. For example if you are in Shanghai and the number 15921221234 was registered in Shanghai, just dial the number as is. If the number was registered outside of your dialing zone, then just prefix it with a 0. For example if you need to reach the above number while you are in Shenzhen, just dial 015921221234. I know it's confusing. If you fail to dial the 0 when it's necessary, you will hear the message that you are trying to reach a number that's outside of the zone and will be requested to put the 0 prefix.

Get A Phone

If your staying is longer than a week it's good idea to buy a phone. Cellular phones in China are very inexpensive. A fully functional GSM phone may cost only few hundred RMB. Once you get a phone you can purchase a pre-paid SIM card. There is no contract and no setup fees. The phone you have bought can also be used on some carriers in the US by replacing the SIM card when you are back to the US, Cingular for example.

Skype Use Skype in Shanghai

If the hotel you are staying has Internet access and you also bring along your laptop, using Skype is the cheapest way to make phone calls in China. Skype charges only two cents per minutes. What a deal! Just pay Skype $10 and you can use it up to a year.



Taxi Cabs

Taxi in ShanghaiCabbies in Shanghai are among the best in China. They are mostly honest, friendly, and professional. You can hail a cab anywhere on the street as long as it's not occupied. But if there are choices, cabbies tend not to pickup a foreigner as customer. It's not because of discrimination but the difficulty in communication as not too many taxi drives can speak English. There were cases that foreign passengers refused to pay because they were brought to the wrong place due to miscommunication. So before you decide to take a cab, always have someone local to write down the Chinese address of your destination. If you go to somewhere and would like to come back to the same place, use the following Chinese to ask someone to write down the address for you. It literally means "Please write down the address here in Chinese for me."

write down the Chinese address

Wait, think about how you are going to return to your hotel. Don't forget to get a "taxi card" from your hotel showing the address of the hotel you are staying.

Public Transportation

Metro in ShanghaiMost of the time taking a taxi is a curse than a blessing. Traffic jam in Shanghai is a big problem during the rush hours. I mean big problem. My strategy to beat the traffic is to take a cab, bus, tram or even walk to a nearby Metro station. The Metro is more reliable, cleaner, and cheaper.

Google Maps does a excellent job in charting the route. Type in your destination in google maps and let Google roughly identify your destination. Once found, right click the labeled spot on the map and choose "Directions to here" from the context menu. On your left pane, type in your starting point, and choose "By public transit" or "Walking" from the pull-down menu below the addresses you have input. Viola! There is a catch though; you need to type in Chinese.

JaywalkingJaywalking in Shanghai

Like many big cities jaywalking is a way of life in Shanghai. Sometimes it's almost impossible to cross a street without jaywalking. Advise: If you really have to jaywalk, look around for the cops. Shanghai police has begun to crack down jaywalking. There were reports that jaywalkers got caught, fined, and worse of all listed as bad citizen in local newspapers. You probably won't have to worry about being listed but the time to argue with the policeman is really worthless. The fine is peanut, 5 to 50 RMB, depends on the judgment and the mood of the policeman. But that's not the point. Do look around for cops and cars when you jaywalk. Follow some local people if you are not sure.


Price Negotiation

In Shanghai almost everything is negotiable, from getting a cheaper than metered taxi ride to getting your visa extended. Price negotiation is an art and you will be better off being accompanied by a Shanghai local who can speak the Shanghai dialect. If you have to do the bargaining by yourself, do follow these suggestions.

  1. Never buy anything the first time you see it. There must be some other shops down the street selling the same item at better price.
  2. Do not express your eagerness to buy. Pretend you don't really need it but if the price is right you might want to consider.
  3. Once you have decided your target for negotiation, use the rule of thumb that 30% of what you would pay in the US is about the right price here. But counter offer a ridiculous low price and work its way up to your comfort level.Practice the "walk-away" strategy if you need to get your negotiator lower the price.
  4. Never buy anything from touts (especially the pretty girls) who are away from a physical shop. You may be shanghaied in buying something you don't need.
  5. Do your research if you have the time. For example if you google "custom tailored clothing shanghai" you will see Blogs and forums from people who have had good or bad experience. Read some of the posts you may find how much people were paying, say $12 for a shirt and $100 for a suit etc.

Oh, by the way, never buy brand names here in Shanghai. Even they are made in China but they can be more expensive than if you buy them in your home town. Swing to Hong Kong if you really want to go after the brand names.



By and large tipping is not necessary in China. Only people from Hong Kong who want to deliver the "I got lots of money" impression and unaware foreigners tip. It used to be an insult if you tipped as people tended to think only uneducated people with no self-esteems would accept tips. If you tipped, your waiter or waitress might give you a quizical look or chase you down to return the changes to you. It has somewhat changed now. Bringing from the US not only the global financial crisis, but also the habit of unnecessary tipping.

It seems each place has its own "culture" for tipping and there is no absolute rule. Use your own judgment. If you go to an foreign operated, say restaurant or bar, with foreign waiters and waitresses then you know them better than we do. But most Chinese operated places do not have tipping culture. If someone provides you with an excellent service and you feel obligated to tip, tip sparingly.

Watch out! high-end service providers tend to add 10~15% service charges to your tag without even letting you know. In that case there is absolutely no need to tip unless you want to teach us a lesson that tipping is a great compassion.