A hoard of global and local developers have set up shop in Shanghai – so to be a hit in business, wear a sober suit and flash a gold-printed card

Who’s out there

UK firms include Atkins, Arup, Davis Langdon Seah, Gleeds, Rider Levett Bucknall, Waterman International, Hyder Consulting, Scott Wilson and WSP. Homegrown talent includes government-owned contractor China State Construction & Engineering Corporation.

Who you need to know

Global firms can be a good route in. Foreign supermarket chains including Carrefour, Tesco and Marks & Spencer are growing quickly. InterContinental Hotel Group, Accor and Hilton all have plans to roll out their budget brand hotels. Other big players include Singaporean mall developer Capital Land, plus commercial and residential developers from Singapore and Hong Kong. Local developers, such as Hang Long, are beginning to embrace the expertise of foreign consultants and should prove a big growth market for global firms. Employing local, well-connected staff will help you build up the necessary links. There is also increasing demand for UK expertise in green building design from Chinese developers, though flagship green development Dongtan has stalled an looks unlikely to go anywhere soon.

Where the action is

Shanghai is conveniently located for Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, which earlier this year topped the league in terms of construction output at 13.6% and 13.1% respectively. The main cities include Hangzhou, Ningbo, Suzhou and Nanjing.

What to do

Throw yourself into the after-dinner karaoke, print your business cards in gold – considered an auspicious colour – and always carry toilet paper with you.

What not to do

Don’t pick your seat first at the dinner table (the placement is directly related to the importance of the guests); never finish everything on your plate (it is a sign your host didn’t give you enough to eat); and don’t ask for a knife and fork.

Down time

Admire the neoclassical buildings along the Bund, Shanghai’s famous riverfront; shop for antiques in Kua Ji Road flea market and designer goods on Nanjing Lu; get pummeled in your local massage parlour and have a drink on the 87th floor of the Grand Hyatt.

Fashion dos and don’ts

In a business context, the dress code is conservative. Wear dark suits and avoid bright colours. Women tend to avoid low-cut tops.

How far will your money go

A pint is £2.52 (expensive compared with Beijing’s £1.10), a pirate DVD about £1, petrol about 40p a litre, and an international phone card around 30p per minute.

Free and easy

Peeing and spitting in the streets is just fine.

Going down

Have more than one child and you will have to pay a fine.

Useful phrases

“Gan bei” (Cheers); “Suiran na xie chao chang tou kanquilai hen hao chi danshi wo you guomin” (Those stir-fried intestines look delicious but I’m allergic); “Dui wo lai shuo, na bu xiang niao wo” (It doesn’t look like a bird’s nest to me).

Useful websites

China Briefing - advice on doing business in China
China-Britain Business Council - a partnership between government and industry developing British trade in China
Shanghai British Chamber of Commerce - useful events listing
Shanghai Expat - Forum for expats and English speakers living and working in Shanghai


Vaccinations required
Hepatitis A, diptheria and yellow fever are strongly recommended; plus typhoid, tuberculosis, hepatitis B, rabies and Japanese B encephalitis and tick-borne encephalitis for those making frequent or extended stays

Foreign Office advice
All but essential travel is discouraged to the earthquake disaster zone in Sichuan province

Emergency phone number
The British Consulate: 86 21 6279 7650

Browse for designer goods down Nanjing Lu