Getting Settled

Banking and ATMs

You can use your passport to set up a bank account at a bank near campus. These accounts can receive wire transfers in US dollars and Chinese yuan from both international and domestic sources. You should check with your current bank to see if they have any reciprocity arrangements with banks in China. For example, if you hold a Bank of America account, you can use a China Construction Bank ATM and incur only a 1 percent foreign transaction fee.

When you arrive for orientation in August, NYU Shanghai will help you set up a local bank account. You will be able to deposit money or allow your family to send wire transfers to this bank account while limiting the fees you would incur from transactions through a bank from your home country. 

Many ATMs can accept international credit and debit cards with the Visa or MasterCard logo and will automatically convert US dollars into RMB for withdrawal, but fees can be exorbitant. We suggest this method only as a last resort when cash is urgently needed. American Express and Discover cards are rarely accepted in China. We do not suggest that students use international credit or debit cards in China, as fees charged by home banks and credit card processors can be quite high.

The Chinese banking system is still not highly internationalized, so it is not possible to directly deposit money into a Chinese bank account from an international location. International banks with branches in China are separate corporate entities from their Chinese outposts and do not allow direct transfers between the two; this is true of Chinese banks with international branches as well. For this reason, wire transfers are still the only way to move money between any bank in China and any international bank, regardless of the bank.

Each bank will have different fees associated with international money transfers, so it is important to contact any bank you are interested in using to find out what fees they charge for transfers to China. The Bank of America and China Construction Bank have a cooperative agreement in which any Construction Bank ATM can be used to withdraw funds from a Bank of America account for a reduced fee (about 1-3 percent) and no ATM charges.

Bathrooms and Showers

NYU Shanghai residence halls have Western-style bathrooms, toilets, and shower facilities. Bathrooms are semiprivate and will be shared only with roommates. Student rooms, including bathrooms, are cleaned once a week by cleaning staff. Shower curtains are provided in all bathrooms. No towels will be provided in residence hall bathrooms. Students will have the opportunity to purchase a towel at IKEA or elsewhere in Shanghai during the orientation period. 

International students will find that many Chinese students prefer to shower in the evening before going to bed and should coordinate appropriately with Chinese classmates for the convenience of all involved.

When off campus and traveling around China, students should prepare for a variety of sanitary conditions in bathrooms. Many bathrooms will offer only "squat" toilets, and often do not provide toilet paper, soap, and paper towels. To prepare for such situations, we suggest that students carry hand sanitizer and a small pack of tissues with them.


A set of sheets and pillowcases, a comforter, and a pillow will be provided for all students in their residence hall rooms upon arrival. Students may purchase additional bedding of their preference at IKEA or elsewhere in Shanghai during the orientation period.


Like most Chinese cities, Shanghai is very easy to navigate by bicycle. There are dedicated bike lanes on most streets in the city, and there are always a lot of cyclists on the street. You can purchase a new bike (or a secondhand one by haggling) near campus for a low price compared to those in the United States. 

There are some things that you need to be aware of if you plan to purchase a bicycle. Finding helmets and other safety gear can be difficult because this equipment is rarely worn by the local population. We do not recommend students ride without this gear, since there is a larger variety of vehicles (such as electric bikes, three-wheeled vehicles, etc.) on the road, and vehicles are more likely to violate traffic rules unexpectedly. Second, bike theft is one of the most common crimes in China, so students should buy used bikes instead of new ones and always secure them with locks. Finally, we strongly recommend that students do not purchase or ride electric bikes and other motorized vehicles. Injuries sustained while on such vehicles may not be covered by your insurance policy.

Cell Phones

Cell phones that take SIM cards can generally be used in China if they have been unlocked, but you should check with your carrier and the phone manufacturer before arriving. You should not retain your non-Chinese phone plan for use in China as fees for international roaming are extraordinarily high.

You will have the chance to purchase local SIM cards and phones during orientation. A basic cell phone will cost about RMB 200 to RMB 300 and monthly fees are around RMB 150 for normal domestic usage.

You may want to enable international calling and texting service on your local phone number, but the fees for this service are very high. Skype, Google Chat, or other Internet-based communication services are still the best option for everyday contact with people outside China.


Shanghai has a humid subtropical climate, with an average of 4.2° C (39.6° F) in January and 27.9° C (82.2° F) in July, for an annual mean temperature of 16.1° C (61.0° F). Temperatures may drop below freezing during the winter, but snowfall is rare.

Many facilities in Shanghai are not well heated during winter months. Students are encouraged to bring clothing that can be layered for use during this time. 


Clothing sizes run small in China, and it may be difficult to find clothing that fits well. You can purchase tailor-made clothing in China for much cheaper than in other countries; this can also be an opportunity to practice haggling.  

You should consider the climate and poor indoor heating of Shanghai as well as the limited space in your residence hall room when packing. Be aware that, as in any residence hall, you will have to negotiate the use of space with your roommate(s).


On-campus dining at NYU Shanghai is a pay-as-you-go plan. Students will be issued an on-campus debit card that is accepted at the campus cafeteria and may use cash to add money to this card.

Meals at the on-campus cafeterias average between RMB 10 and RMB 30, and students can use their campus cards to purchase them. Meals off-campus range in price significantly from RMB 6 for a simple bowl of noodles to hundreds of RMB for a fancy foreign meal, and your campus card cannot be used to pay for these meals.

For fire prevention, you are prohibited from owning or keeping any cooking equipment in your residence hall room.


Power outlets in China provide 220V electricity. You should come prepared with several plug adapters as well as a voltage converter. If you are bringing a computer or any important electrical device, contact the manufacturer to find out your device’s electricity requirements. If you are unsure of a device’s requirements, always use your voltage converter, as using the incorrect voltage can cause malfunction or even an electrical fire. 

Exchanging Money

Many banks can exchange money for you before you come to China. We recommend you bring RMB 1000 (about USD 160 as of May 2013) on your trip here because much of China still relies on cash.

As part of your orientation, we'll show you where to set up a bank account and let you know what documents you need to do so. Once your account is set up, you can receive wires from abroad and exchange USD or widely traded currencies into RMB as necessary through the local Chinese bank. 

Festivals and Holidays

Lunar New Year

Also known as Spring Festival, this holiday begins on the first day of the month of the lunar calendar and ends on the 15th day of that month. The last day is the Lantern Festival. The Spring Festival is the most significant holiday in the Chinese calendar, and most Shanghai services will be closed. While NYU Shanghai will be on holiday, students who are here during this time should plan accordingly.  

Mid-Autumn Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. It is a celebration of abundance and togetherness. Also known as the Moon Festival or Mooncake Festival, the celebration falls on the Autumn Equinox of the solar calendar, when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. Friends and family gather for a huge feast and eat moon cakes together. This is also a Chinese national holiday, although more services stay open than during the Lunar New Year.

Getting Around

All subway stations around Shanghai sell citywide transportation cards. Transportation cards require you to pay a small deposit and can be used for subways, buses, and taxis. 


An interesting and enjoyable aspect of shopping in China is haggling. In most shops, such as small-scale clothing vendors and souvenir stalls, haggling is necessary and expected. Merchants will begin by giving a quote that could be four or more times the actual price. Assuming you appropriately communicate your desire for a lower price, you and the vendor will hash it out for a few minutes until you come to a price you are both satisfied with. Shop owners will be aggressive in their initial overpricing, so it is your responsibility to only settle on a price you can accept. As you get used to the local value of different goods, you will become more effective at haggling.

You do not need to haggle for all goods in China. At many large-scale shops, local convenience stores, and grocery stores where prices are clearly listed, haggling is not allowed. However, when at tourist sites or when purchasing items regarded as souvenirs, you are almost always expected to barter regardless of the scale of the store or the fact that price tags may appear on items.

Internet Service

NYU Shanghai offers free high-speed wireless Internet service throughout the academic building and residence halls. Students may also download the NYU VPN for off-campus access to NYU’s network. Skype, Gmail, Google Chat, and all other normal Internet communication tools will function well on NYU networks.

Language Tips

You should try to learn how to say the address of the residence halls for speaking to taxi drivers, but keep a copy of the address in your purse or wallet in case the driver cannot understand you.

Speak as much Chinese as you can at all times and do not be afraid to speak because you think your accent is horrible. You will find that locals are very encouraging to new speakers and will always compliment you on your speaking.


Washers and dryers are available in all student residences. You may find that non-Chinese and Chinese approach laundry differently, with many Chinese students choosing to hand-wash and hang-dry their laundry. This is both a result of upbringing and perceptions of sanitation, as some Chinese students will have been raised in homes without washing machines and dryers. 

Dry cleaning and laundry drop-off services are also available near campus, with a general wait time of several days between drop-off and pickup. 


Shanghai is full of beautiful parks, and we encourage you to explore and enjoy them fully. Parks in China are safe and vibrant places. In them, you can find groups of retired residents engaging in group singing, dance, tai chi practice, and so forth. They are great places for study and relaxing with classmates. NYU Shanghai’s academic building is near Century Park, the largest park in Shanghai and a wonderful place to enjoy a sunny afternoon.  

Pets and Plants

Students should not plan to bring pets to NYU Shanghai. NYU Shanghai prohibits students from keeping pets in the residence halls. You are, however, allowed to keep plants in your room.


Pudong refers to the areas of Shanghai east of the Huangpu River. This area was mostly farmland before the late 1980s but now contains much of the financial district and modern architecture of Shanghai, including famous structures like the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center. NYU Shanghai's academic building is in the heart of Pudong (Lujiazui) on Century Avenue, minutes away from the two aforementioned landmarks.


Puxi refers to the areas of Shanghai west of the Huangpu River. This includes the oldest areas of the city as well as a wealth of native and colonial buildings from the 19th and early-20th century along the Bund, Nanjing Road, Huaihai Road, and elsewhere. NYU Shanghai's academic building is near many subway stops, which makes for a quick and easy trip to anywhere in Puxi.


NYU Shanghai has computer labs equipped with printers on campus. Copy shops and print shops are also available around campus. If you are interested in purchasing a printer, you can order one through a local electronics website or visit a local Best Buy-style electronics store to pick one up.

Religious Services

Much like in the United States, legal separation of church and state exists in China, which means that religious practitioners must find services and communities off-campus. All major faiths have community centers and places of worship in Shanghai, however, and NYU staff will provide guidance and support to anyone seeking a religious community with which to engage. 

Storage and Closets

We do not recommend that you ship or bring large storage or organizers for closets and drawers to China. You will have a chance during orientation to visit IKEA and purchase these things.

NYU Shanghai will provide storage space at the end of this school year and into the summer to ease your transition to the new NYU Shanghai campus.


You should not plan to ship any boxes or personal possessions to China before your departure from your home country in August. NYU Shanghai cannot receive student packages before student arrival.

Boxes of clothes or personal possessions shipped to China are often held at customs and subject to import taxes or duties upon arrival. These boxes may be held for inspection for weeks or months for no stated reason at the discretion of customs agents. Additionally, shipping through any of the typical international carriers (FedEx, UPS, DHL, EMS) is extremely expensive and it is more cost-effective to buy goods locally once in China.

We recommend that you bring a large suitcase or two with the necessary clothes, toiletries, and other personal possessions when you travel. Checking these bags may result in overage fees, but these fees will still be less than shipping to China.

Keep in mind that there will be many opportunities for shopping during orientation and into the school year, and most everyday goods can be purchased in China for very reasonable prices.


Many toiletries can be purchased at Wal-Mart, Carrefour, or other similar large-scale shopping centers. If you have a strong preference for a specific brand of hair product, toothpaste, deodorant, or other toiletry, you may want to bring a supply of it from your home country, as these brands may not be available in China. Large international brands produced by Unilever and Procter & Gamble are generally available.


Traveling throughout China is rewarding, cheap, and convenient. However, making flight or train reservations can be somewhat challenging for students who do not speak Mandarin Chinese. The NYU Shanghai staff is happy to assist students who wish to purchase weekend travel tickets. Make sure you ask for assistance at least a few weeks in advance to allow for processing time.

One resource open to all NYU students for international travel planning is NYU Traveler, available through your NYU Home account. There you can learn how to book flights through NYU Traveler's Egencia and AMEX systems.

More Travel Tips

  • Inform someone (your parents, the school, a friend) of your travel plans in case of emergency.
  • Make sure you have more than one source of money (e.g., cash and a credit card).
  • Make a copy of your passport and a credit card and pack these to bring along with you.
  • Bring email confirmations of all reservations and arrangements you have made.
  • Write down the address of your destination to show to a local if you need help and print out directions to get to that location. 


China has plenty of vegetarian dishes to offer. Just make sure that the dishes you order do not use animal-based oils or broths in preparation. Some vegetarians have trouble finding “actual” vegetarian food. For example, the waiter might bring out an eggplant dish with tiny shrimp sprinkled on top, even after specifically being told “no meat.” Sometimes you just have to laugh it off and reorder. Or if you are fine with picking out shrimp, that works too! It is also a good idea to say “sucai” (vegetarian) as opposed to “bu yao rou” (no meat) as seafood is not considered meat in China.

When traveling to smaller cities, whether on group travels or individually, students may be dismayed to find a lack of vegetarian options and the presence of some more exotic meats such as dog, organ meat, frog legs, snakes, and so on. Try to bring enough supplies and snacks in case you cannot find vegetarian dishes.