Volunteer Abroad in Shanghai

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A Guide to Volunteering Abroad in Shanghai

The most populous city in the most populous country on earth, it goes without saying that Shanghai is a big deal. First rising to prominence as one of the key trade cities in Asia that connected East to West, Shanghai is widely recognized as one of the world’s top ten global cities. Yet, its impressive skyline and influential financial district should not mask that Shanghai faces many challenges down the road, which is where international volunteers can enter the picture. Make a deeply felt, positive impact on the lives of those less fortunate by volunteering in Shanghai.

Volunteering in Shanghai

Like any major city around the world, Shanghai faces its fair share of problems created by mass urbanization. These problems are only strengthened by China’s baseline rates of poverty and often wayward government policies. Yet there are many volunteer organizations, both international and domestic, that are devoted to making Shanghai a better place to live for all. Foreign volunteers of all creeds can easily find a way to volunteer in Shanghai, and a placement that fits with their own personal interests.

Most individuals who volunteer in Shanghai work within the realms of education, healthcare, community development, and working with children or the elderly. Even within these many different fields, there are many different types of placements, so take your time to thoroughly research all the unique volunteering opportunities available in Shanghai. Odds are you that in a city of 24 million, you will be able to find at least a few projects that intrigue you!

Individuals can volunteer in Shanghai for as short as just a couple weeks or as long as a full year; your program length is all up to you and how you want to budget your time. Volunteer programs in Shanghai are generally flexible in allowing you to determine your own start and end dates, giving you a good degree of control in customizing your own experience.

Life in Shanghai

Make no mistake, adjusting to life in Shanghai will come with its fair share of culture shock. While it is quite a modern and industrialized city, the sheer amount of people and observable urban poverty can be a lot to take in, even for the most seasoned traveler. Adjusting to the crowds and fast paced life can be challenging, but the experience and maturity you will gain from volunteering in Shanghai is invaluable.

Twenty-four million people live in the municipality of Shanghai, and 34 million live in the larger metropolitan area. Public transportation is very affordable throughout the city. The Shanghai Metro consists of subway and railway lines, that connect almost every urban and suburban area of the city. Beijing, China’s capital city, is also only several hours away from Shanghai by high speed rail.

Shanghai boasts a virtually limitless supply of entertainment and culturally immersive opportunities. There are tons of museums, cinemas, public parks, and historical attractions speckled throughout the city, that are all well worth visiting. Though the government is taking gradual steps to curtail pollution, smog is still a big problem in Shanghai, so some days are undoubtedly better spent inside!

If you are planning to learn Mandarin as part of your volunteer program in Shanghai, then more power to you. However, learning the language is not essential if you still wish to become a volunteer in Shanghai. Shanghai is a very globally connected city, and you can get by well enough on the streets knowing English

Costs & Affordability

Volunteering in Shanghai can vary in affordability. Although, many volunteer programs in Shanghai will include housing, food, and transportation in the program fees. General program costs are something you should plan for early on.

Good news is that Shanghai is an affordable city to live in overall. Even though it is an economic superpower, China is still a developing country, and so most costs of living in Shanghai will be significantly less than in the big cities of fully industrialized nations. The Chinese Yuan trades at about 6 RMB to $1.

Accommodation & Visas

As a volunteer in Shanghai, you will probably have the option to either live with a host family or independently in an apartment. Homestays are a great way to totally immerse yourself in Chinese culture and become close with a local family, and are especially valuable as an opportunity to practice the language if you are learning how to speak Mandarin. Living in an apartment is a good option if you want a more autonomous lifestyle, and many volunteer programs in Shanghai will help you to find separate housing if that is your wish.

Chinese visa policies are fairly strict, so you will want to get on the ball early and obtain the proper documentation needed to work as a volunteer in Shanghai. The type of visa you will need varies, depending on your home nation and the length of your volunteer work in Shanghai. You should consult your program about which visa you will need, and you can also check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory for more specifics from a Chinese Consulate nearest to you.

GoAbroad Insider Tips

Live in a Global City. Shanghai is one of the most internationally connected cities on the planet, and is an extremely influential cultural and financial hub of Asia. While it is a distinctly Chinese city, you can also enjoy the diverse and multifaceted environment of a metropolis with ties all over the world.

Give Back. Shanghai is a massive city and struggles with a large degree of inequality, pollution, and poverty. A well-built volunteer force is one of the main assets that helps Shanghai’s less fortunate stay on their feet, so through volunteering in Shanghai you can truly make a difference working hand in hand with locals.

Experience China. China is one of the world’s oldest and greatest civilizations. While volunteering in Shanghai you can learn all about this great country’s history and visit many museums, temples, and monuments, which survive as reminders of its storied past.

Read our comprehensive guide on volunteering abroad in China.

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A Guide To
Volunteering Abroad in Shanghai


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