If you’re moving to China or travelling there for an extended length of time, you’ll have tons to organise. This will include things like obtaining your China visitor visa, booking your flights, finding accommodation and getting a job.
In and amongst all this planning and thinking, it’s worth considering what items to take with you from your home country. While it’s true that you can find almost everything you’re used to in China these days, there are some surprising exceptions!
Moreover, you’ll need a few key basics to support you while you’re getting yourself set up in the so-called Middle Kingdom. So with no further ado, read on to learn what to bring when you’re relocating to China!
Basic Essentials for Your China Packing List
These are the fundamental items you’ll need in your first days after relocating to China. They’ll help you in your day-to-day interactions as well as doing vital things like registering your presence with the authorities and opening a bank account.
1. Your Passport and Visa, Plus Photocopies
Obviously, you’ll need your passport and visa both to board your flight and to pass through customs when you arrive. What’s more though, it’s obligatory to carry your passport with you at all times in this country, so be sure to keep it about your person.
You’ll also need your passport and visa to register with the local police and get a bank account. The staff may want to see the originals, though they’re also likely to require photocopies for their records, so take 2 or 3 of each document just in case!
2. Your Driver’s License and Other Forms of ID
If you’ve got a driver’s license or another legal form of identification, this is also worth taking with you to present as and when the need arises.
3. Cash, in Chinese Renminbi (RMB)
It’s certainly worthwhile to take your debit or credit cards with you to the Middle Kingdom, for use at least until you’re set up with a local bank account and a Chinese payment card.
That said, the fees for using foreign payment cards in this country can be high. Both the local bank and your own bank may charge a commission, plus the exchange rate could be inferior. In addition, not all Chinese shops or ATMs accept plastic denominated in other currencies.
With this in mind, it’s worthwhile exchanging some money into RMB for when you arrive. This will allow you to do some shopping for the basics in your first days, while saving yourself the potentially high fees of using your home debit or credit card.
4. Pen or Pencil.
When you fly into this country, you’re required to fill in an entry form. The flight crew will usually pass this to you on the plane before landing. With this in mind, the best way to fill in the form and exit the airport quickly is to have a writing utensil at your disposition! Otherwise, you may have to ask around for a pen or wait until you’re in the airport to fill in the form.
5. A Mandarin Phrasebook.
It’s still relatively rare to meet Chinese who are fluent in English, even in major cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin and Guangzhou. So to facilitate your daily interactions, be sure to take a phrasebook and, at the least, learn some basic words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
Electronics to Take to China
For many of us, it’s hard to imagine life these days without at least 1 or 2 electronic devices, be these your smartphone or laptop. So, clearly, you’ll want to take your valued devices with you and, in virtually all cases, that’s fine! The authorities don’t prohibit particular brands or machines.
That said, while this country is one of the world’s leading hubs for technology manufacturing, there are a few things to buy to make sure your electronic goods continue to work well in the Red Dragon country. So be sure to put the following objects on your packing list for China!
1. Plug / Power Adaptor
The electricity in China is 220V/50Hz and the sockets don’t accept 3-pronged devices, so many foreign gadgets won’t work, including those from the United Kingdom. To get around this hitch you’ll need at least 1 universal power adaptor, which you can pick up either at your local electricals shop or directly at the airport before your flight.
2. Unlocked Smartphone
Virtually all foreign mobiles function normally here, so you can save yourself the worry of buying a local device when you arrive. However, your SIM card is unlikely to work here so, to get coverage, you must first unlock your smartphone so that it can accept a Chinese SIM. You can do this at any good telecommunications shop in your own country in advance.
3. VPN (Virtual Private Network)
As is well known, the Chinese authorities censor the internet, which means that websites you’re probably used to, like Google, Facebook and YouTube, aren’t readily available.
To get around this, you’ll have to sign up to what’s called a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This gives your internet-connected devices access to servers outside the country, thereby getting around the so-called ‘Great Firewall’ and restoring your access to Twitter and so on.
Most VPNs offer a monthly subscription, and it’s worth shopping around to see which ones have the best reviews and can provide a reliable service for all your electronic devices at a reasonable price.
In particular, a VPN subscription is a worthwhile investment for English teachers in China, as this will restore your access to vast swathes of the English-speaking internet that you can use for class preparation and other materials.
Day-to-Day Accessories to Bring to China
When you go out in your own country, you’re probably used to carrying at least 1 bag or satchel for your things.
In China though, it’s advisable to expand on your arsenal of accessories for when you’re out and about, chiefly for our own health and safety. Here’s what you’ll need!
1. Passport Pouch or Wallet
As mentioned above, it’s obligatory to carry your passport with you in China, in case you’re asked to show it. Given this, you’ll obviously want to keep it as safe as possible and, in most circumstances, out of sight.
Well, perhaps the best way to do this is with a passport pouch or wallet, which you can attach to some string and wear around your neck under your clothes. This way, you’ve got easy access to the document and it’s safe with you from pickpockets, even if you momentarily leave your bag with your other things unattended (to go to the bathroom in a cafeteria, for example).
If you prefer, you can also use the pouch to store your credit cards and cash too.
2. Pollution / Dust Mask
China suffers from higher levels of pollution and air particles than you may be used to at home. This is especially the case in and around the larger cities and industrial areas, where vast manufacturing hubs have sprung up over a relatively short space of time.
Given this, it’s worth investing in a solid, quality facemask to protect your throat and lungs. You’ll want a mask that you feel comfortable in and that provides adequate protection, such as a PM 2.5 mask designed for use in urban areas. Your respiratory system will thank you!
3. Bottled Water
Clearly, you can’t buy bottled water in advance to take with you on a plane. That said, this should be one of the very first things you purchase when you arrive. This is because you can’t drink the tap water in China, even to rinse your mouth, as it can cause diarrhoea and other health problems.
Once you’ve got your accommodation sorted, it’s well worthwhile buying a water filter system too.
4. Waterproof Smartphone Case
It can rain frequently in China, particularly in the spring. With this in mind, you may wish to protect your mobile from any unforeseen showers with a sturdy, waterproof case.
Hygiene + Health Items to Move to China
1. Toilet Paper
This one may seem obvious, but hear me out first! Clearly, you’ll need toilet paper to use at home. However, in addition, it’s common practice in China to carry toilet paper with you for use when out and about. Why? Because many establishments, particularly in rural areas, don’t supply their own roll as they’re liable to be stolen!
Of course, you don’t have to carry a whole roll to fit in your bag. Instead, you can carry a small, kleenex-sized pack to use if need be in a bar, on the train, in the country and so on. This can be worth stocking up and taking with you for when you arrive in the Middle Kingdom.
When many foreign people arrive here, they observe that deodorant isn’t easy to find in the supermarkets. This is because, although Chinese people sweat, they don’t tend to smell. This is either because of genetic differences or the food, depending on who you ask. What’s more, the Chinese don’t frown on perspiration either, due to cultural norms.
As a result, it’s worth packing a good supply of your preferred deodorant to take with you. You can of course ship some into China once you’re there, though it’s likely to be cheaper to buy in your own country and carry for when you arrive. This way, you avoid both the delivery cost and the import tax.
In general, Chinese women prefer pads, so tampons aren’t easy to come across. You may be able to find them in specialist import shops in major cities like Beijing, though they’re uncommon in pharmacies. Also, those that are available tend to be smaller than you may be used to.
Given this, if you prefer a particular brand of tampon, it’s worth adding some in advance to your China packing list.
4. Non-Alcohol Based Sanitiser Wash
It can be worthwhile taking some with you. This is because the hygiene standards may not be up to what you’re used to, especially in the aforementioned rural areas, so you might wish to wipe the bathroom facilities before use. You can also wash handrails, doorknobs and other surfaces that lots of people frequently touch in public.
Sanitiser wash is available in China, though it’s worth carrying some for when you arrive.
5. Mosquito Repellant Spray or Wristband
It gets hot and humid in China in the summer and, during this season, mosquitos and other insects come out in full force. To protect yourself, consider buying a repellant spray that you can apply to your skin or, if you prefer, an anti-mosquito wristband. This will keep you safe from those oh-so-itchy bites!
6. Immodium or Activated Charcoal
When you first get here, your body may need time to get used to the different food and ingredients, as Chinese cuisine (the authentic kind!) could be quite distinct from what you’ve tried in the past.
While your system adjusts, it’s worth taking immodium or activated charcoal tablets, otherwise known as anti-diarrhoea medicine. Be sure to stay hydrated during this period too.
7. Vaccinations and Doctor’s Prescriptions
According to the WHO (World Health Organisation) and United States CDC (Center for Disease Control), before heading to China it’s worth getting vaccinated for:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Japanese encephalitis
- Mumps and rubella (MMR)
- Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis)
- Yellow fever
So it’s important to talk to your doctor to ensure you’re immunised against these illnesses. Moreover, if you require any prescriptions or have any notable health conditions, these are worth discussing with your physician in advance too, as your usual medicine may not be available in Chinese pharmacies.
It’s useful to obtain some health insurance for when you’re in this country too.
Clothes, Fashion and Cosmetics to Pack for China
The clothing and fashion norms in China could be quite different from what you’re used to. You’ll need to both research the climate depending on what part of the country you’re moving to and, as a foreigner, wear apparel that fits in with the local cultural norms.
In addition, almost all the clothing items, shampoos and cosmetics you’ll find are geared to the Chinese body type and Asian ethnicity. So here’s everything you need to know in this respect for when you arrive!
1. Clothes (What to Wear)
In terms of what clothing to bring, you’ll need a wardrobe for all seasons. China can be hot and humid in the summer and cold and rainy in the winter, like in other countries.
So you’ll need a mix of durable, warm clothes and lighter apparel, plus footwear to match. Also, it’s worth looking up the climate conditions for the specific region you’re moving to.
The cultural norm regarding clothes in China is for smart casual. For example, if you’re relocating for a year as an English teacher, it might be deemed inappropriate to wear jeans in front of your pupils. You may also wish to cover up any tattoos while you’re in class.
For women, you might want to buy new bras and underwear to take with you. This is because Chinese women can be comparatively small, so it could be hard to find sizes that fit you.
In addition, clothes counterfeiting in China is common, so be on the lookout if you’re shopping for popular brands. To ensure the quality you’re used to, it could be worthwhile buying some items from the brands you like in advance to take to China.
2. Clothes (What Not to Wear)
Don’t wear a green hat. This is because the Chinese for “green hat” sounds similar to the word for “cuckold”. So if you wear one, you’re announcing to people that you’re being cheated on!
Also, avoid revealing or flashy items of clothing. As a foreigner, you may be targeted by pickpockets and scam artists, so it’s best not to draw attention to yourself or stand out. This is particularly the case if you speak only limited Mandarin! Instead, aim to fit in.
On a similar note, make sure not to wear any military-themed or khaki clothing. This could be misconstrued either by the locals or, more importantly, by the police.
Don’t bring any woollen or heavy items of clothing. This is because Chinese apartments are typically small without dryers, so these can take ages to dry!
Lastly, don’t wear bikinis. If you go to the beach as a woman in China, the norm is to wear a comparatively modest one-piece swimsuit, so it’s best to follow suit to fit in.
3. Shampoos and Cosmetics
Most of the shampoo, skincare and makeup products in China are manufactured with the local population in mind. The Chinese tend to have thick black hair and, for women especially, very pale skin is the ideal.
So if you’re a blond, redhead or from another ethnicity, you might have trouble finding products that suit you in the Middle Kingdom. If you do come across suitable items, they’re likely to be more expensive than you’re used to, as they’ll include the import tax.
Given this, if there are shampoos and cosmetic items that you’re used to and particularly like, these are more things to pack for China. These might include:
- Moisturisers and skin lotions, as most Chinese versions contain whiteners.
- Hair dye, if you want to dye your hair any other colour than black.
- Makeup, for skin types other than pale Asian skin.
Extras (Sentimental Items, Creature Comforts) to Take to China
While this article has covered lots of practical items you’ll need so far, your ‘things to pack for China list’ should also include some sentimental items to help make you feel at home. Here are a few ideas.
1. Photos of Family and Friends
Depending on your circumstances, you may be relocating to China by yourself to work or study. The first few weeks in a new country can be hard while you’re settling in and meeting new people. To make this process easier for you, it can be helpful to take some photos of your nearest and dearest for when you feel homesick.
2. E-Book Reader
A fab way to save space when you relocate to China is to take an e-book reader like a Kindle, rather than lots of physical books. You can fit thousands of books onto the hard drive and download new ones easily, without weighing you down.
3. Your Favourite Food Or Snack!
Do you have a favourite item of food? For example, are you obsessed with Pringles pizza-flavoured crisps? You can buy most familiar brands and goods in China’s major cities, although, since they’re imported, they could be more expensive than you’re used to. To save money and avoid the possibility that your preferred item isn’t available, buy it in advance.
What Not to Bring When Moving to China
By now you should have a good idea of what to bring to China in many aspects of life. That said, there are a few items that it’s advisable not to bring, either because of common sense or taking into account China’s political situation. Here are the key ones:
- Maps where Taiwan appears as a country. The Chinese consider Taiwan part of their territory, so if you bring a map that shows otherwise, it will be confiscated. This is among the most important things to know before moving to China.
- Lots of textbooks if you’re an English teacher. This is both because they’re heavy and because your school should provide you with all the necessary teaching materials.
- Expensive jewellery or electronics. If you’re relocating to China permanently, you may feel comfortable bringing your family heirlooms and 3,000 USD Apple MacBook. However, if you’re only moving here for a fixed period, it might be better to leave these at home and take a cheaper laptop or smartphone for while you’re in China.
Relocating to China will doubtless be one of the most exciting, memorable things you do in your life. We hope this article helps get your time there off to a flying start! Also, if you’re looking for some excellent reasons to visit this country, read our Why Visit to China? article too.