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Friday, June 21, 2024
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Expat Lessons: Shanghai

Expat Lessons Shanghai is part of the TPOL in Shanghai Trip Report. Like I do with each trip (see TPOL’s Travel Lessons) on each expat assignment, I will write a recap of the lessons learned from living abroad (see TPOL’s Expat Lessons).

This was my first expat move since leaving Mongolia in 2014. Life lessons were learned there but that’s for my next book, not the blog (buy Everyone’s Advice Is Wrong . . . Including Mine). Here’s what I learned in Shanghai this time around.


My expat plan was to stay in one place for the whole month. I wanted to establish a routine. I also wanted to spend less than $1500 if possible. The garbage Airbnb ruined that (see Airbnb Long-Term? Never Again: My Shanghai Experience). I rationalized paying more for a hotel (see U Hotel Xintiandi: Decent for a Long Stay in Shanghai), and then with Citi’s 4th Night Free expiring, I rationalized paying more to receive TPOL style amenities including better Wifi (see Renaissance Yu Garden Shanghai: A Comprehensive Review & Courtyard Shanghai Central: Nice, But Not So Central). In the end, I paid $2000 for 27 nights.

a room with a large window and a city skyline
I need this view again but in an apartment, not a hotel.

TPOL’s TIP: Pay the premium to live like you do at home. Otherwise, you will waste time and ultimately cost yourself money by jumping from place to place.


I stopped working out completely because I did not have a stable home or routine. I eventually found a place to work out, but it was too late. I had turned into a dumpling by then (see Z & B Fitness: TRX Training in Shanghai).

a sign in front of a building
I spent my first two weeks in Shanghai working out my dance skills. I didn’t implement the workout plan until late into my tenure.

TPOL’s TIP: Stick to the same gym schedule as home.


I only packed my normal carry on. I showed up with nothing clean, and after a few nights it was unbearable. Instead of going to the Fabric Market and staying fresh, I went to H&M. There’s a reason the shirts are $7. Wash them once and they shrink and remain permanently wrinkled.

a man holding a suitcase standing on a street
I came away knowing that when it comes to bargaining, I still got it

TPOL’s TIP: Showing up with no clothes was a good idea but like the accommodations, buying cheap garbage from H&M was not a solution. Go to the Fabric Market right away.


My life in Puerto Rico is hectic. Every Tuesday I have to go down the waterslide at the resort pool #slidetuesdays. I also have to golf three times a week and workout five times a week. There isn’t much to do in Shanghai besides party (see TPOL’s Guide to Libations in Shanghai) and eat street food (see Cheap Eats Shanghai: Morning, Day, Night, Morning Again). In theory, I should have been more productive in this city life than island life. Between trying to find a suitable home and gym, I was not able to get into a rhythm. I tried to change my work schedule to accommodate these disruptions and ended up doing less than at home. Next time, I know to keep the gym and work schedule the same. I only need to change the hours of operation. So long as I hit my weekly goals, it doesn’t matter if I stay out all night and start the workday at 6PM.

a group of people standing outside a building

TPOL’s TIP: Meet the same work goals as home.

Time Zone Is My Friend

Unlike the stupidity of Nepal’s 45 minute time difference (see A 45 Minute Time Difference in Kathmandu? Stupidity Knows No Bounds), Shanghai’s 12 hour time difference with New York is very convenient. When it’s night in China, it is the workday in NY. Being twelve hours ahead keeps me ahead of my adversaries.

a yellow container with dice on it


I am up in the air if I want to put my ocean view on Airbnb when I live the expat life. I know what an annoying tenant I was, and I am not sure I want anyone living in my house. However, it becomes expensive to live like a king abroad when I have to pay rent and a mortgage.


I need to figure out how to get a Chinese bank account. It is too inconvenient to live there without one (see Without Technology TPOL’s the Creepy Old Guy in Shanghai).


Before I go on my next expat assignment, I need to set expectations for what I plan to achieve by being in that location. Am I still trying to work remotely but just in a new environment? Or am I trying to expand into an international market? If it’s the latter, I need to set up meetings before I go.


In 2010, I left Shanghai and swore to come back as a successful expat. I tried to do it with General Motors and was fired within five months of taking a job in Warren, Michigan. Nine years later I did it myself working as TPOL and Bachuwa Law. I give myself an A for seeing it through but a B- for what I accomplished when I was there.

Next time will be better.

a city skyline with water and blue sky







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