Packing for your Trip to China

After you have signed your first contract to teach ESL in China, you have to start thinking about what you are going to bring with you to China. Packing for your trip to China may seem overwhelming especially when you know that you will be living in China for at least a year. So what should you bring with you to China? Is there anything that you cannot find in China? Should you ‘stock up’ on anything?  To assist you with this process, here are some tips  that you may find helpful as you prepare for your big trip to China.


What you should bring with you to China

  1. Medicine — While Chinese pharmacies do offer many Western medicines these days, it is probably a good idea to stock up on any medicine that you are taking on a regular basis. Foreign teacher friends of mine, for example, have told me that they have had a difficult time finding medicine for their asthma inhalers. You can also do a search on Google to find out which medicines are available in China. However, remember that depending on where you are living, it could be difficult to find what you are looking for.  It is always a good idea to also check with your school about what medicines are available locally.
  2. Personal Hygiene Products — I have never had trouble finding shampoo, bar soap, toothbrushes, or toothpaste even in the smallest cities. You should not have to worry too much about ‘stockpiling’ these items.  If you need a particular brand however, you should bring it from your home country as you will most likely not even recognize most of the brands available here.  In some smaller cities in China, you may not be able to find deoderant (and especially your favorite brand) or dental floss.  Also, I have heard about difficulties that women have had finding feminine products in some parts of China. Pads seem to be readily available but in some areas you may have a hard time finding tampons.
  3. English Books — If you are an avid reader then you may want to take some English books with you to China. While you can find English books on the shelves of bookstores in big cities, fidning them in some of the smaller cities in China is nearly impossible. Chinese Bibles are readily available in China but finding an Bible in English will probably be a chore. As an ESL teacher in China, you are allowed to carry a Bible into China for personal use.  

What you do not necessarily need to bring with you to China

  1. Clothing — The demand for Western style clothes in China has greatly increased in the last 10 years as more and more Chinese people follow international fashion trends. While there is nothing wrong with bringing most of your clothes with you, do not forget that you can always buy more in China and you may be pleasantly surprised by the prices. However, if your clothing size unusually large, you may have a hard time finding clothes that fit you. In this case, you may want to consider bringing more clothes from home.
  2. Bedsheets — Unless you are attached for some odd reason to your bedsheets and pillow at home, it is probably better to just leave them at home. You should easy be able to find sheets and blankets in China for reasonable prices. Your school may even provide them for you. Not having to carry these items with you will definitely lighten your load.
  3. Bicycle — Some foreigners are intent on dragging their bicycles with them to China. It is not worth the trouble! You can buy a decent mountain bike in China for under 100 USD that should last you at least the year that you are there.

What you most definitely may NOT bring with you to China

  1. Arms, ammunition, and explosives of all kinds  
  2. Radio transmitters-receivers and principal parts (bringing in your transistor radio is fine)
  3. Renminbi (Chinese currency) in cash
  4. Manuscripts, printed matter, films, photographs, gramophone records, cinematographic films, loaded recording tapes and videotapes, etc. which are detrimental to China’s politics, economy, culture, and ethics (carrying pornographic videos or magazines is definitely a bad idea)
  5. Poisonous drugs, habit-forming drugs, opium, morphine, heroin, etc. (Do not fool around with this one! Being caught using or selling drugs in China is a serious matter! Your home country will NOT be able to help you)  
  6. Animals, plants and products thereof infected with or carrying germs and insect pesticides 
  7. Unsanitary foodstuffs and germ-carrying food-stuffs from infected areas

Here is a SAMPLE packing list that I have used in the past when going to teach in warm climates in China.  
1. Passport and other relevant documents
2. Rain jacket and galoshes
3. English Books
4. Bathing suit and towel
5. Chinese dictionary
6. Hygienic itmes
7. Sandals
8. Camera and film
9. Sunscreen (available but expensive in China)
10. Flashlight
11. Notebook and pencils
12. Waist Pouch
13. Hiking boots
14. Tennis shoes
15. Radio (it’s fun to listen to the local Spanish radio stations)
16. Extra spending money
17. Backpack
18. Alarm clock
19. Calculator (handy for currency conversion)
20. Credit or debit card (recommended in case of emergencies.)

As far as clothing is concerned, you just have to use common sense. Most schools require their teachers to ‘dress up’ a little for classes. Jeans and T-shirts are not usually allowed. It is also important to do a little research on the climate in the place where you will be living. This will help you to know what kind of clothes to bring. However, it is always good to bring some clothes that are appropriate for different climates in case you have a chance to travel in China.

If you have anything to add to this information, please leave us a comment below

16 Responses to Packing for your Trip to China

  1. Fee says:

    I’ll add:

    For Females: Get a mooncup (or Divacup, keeper depending on where you are – google it), it’s much easier, reusable and means you wont’ be frantically searching for sanitary items (also smaller to pack).

    Also, look into one of the devices to help you pee standing up (i’ve got a Pstyle). They are a real bonus when you’re caught in a public toilet. Sometimes i’m so glad i don’t have to drop two feet lower to whatever’s on the ground!

    If you’re a waxer, bring some with you. I’ve never found either a place that offers waxing or wax strips.

    For Anyone:

    If you can fit some into your luggage, bring some packet mixes of food you like. I bring custard and Angel Delight (i think it’s like American cool whip?) with me. Sometimes it’s just nice to sit back and have a taste of home. I’ve also got my Chinese friend hooked on custard and give her a few packs when i come back :) I also bring British tea. It’s stronger than the black tea we get here and sometimes, only a good strong cup will suffice. It also interests the Chinese because it’s made with Indian tea, rather than Chinese tea so they like to taste it (remember: Strong, milky with one or two sugars!).

    A small phrasebook (I’d recommend the Lonely Planet one personally) can be invaluable when you’re travelling. I travelled alone the first Spring Festival i was here and learnt a lot of chinese by pointing at things in the book. People then repeat it to you and you get a mini-lesson on a particular thing. It’s also really handy if you need a doctor. Pointing at the place that hurts is sometimes not so wise.

    My guilty secret is a slankie (one of those blankets with sleeves things). Sometimes the apartments can get a bit cold, and it’s great for using the computer and keeping warm. I also use it on the plane on the way over so i can eat and stay warm!

    If you can scan your passport, visa and other documents onto a USB stick then do that. I had my passport stolen on a flight, and if i’d had my documents scanned on a stick (not in my hold luggage…) i might have had less problems. The airport security will all have PCs (where else are they going to play Happy Farm?!) so you should be able to at least bring up your documents that have contact details and show them a valid visa, which might allow you through to speak to the Embassy.

    I’d recommend having an external hard drive with you if you’re coming here to work. Mine is filled with old British comedy and some films. The first week or so you might not have a DVD player, but if you have a PC you can keep yourself occupied for a while.

    I’d also recommend upgrading to an ebook reader, then you can store thousands of ebooks on your hard drive and save space for other stuff.

    If you like a particular brand of something (i love Aquafresh mouthwash) then bring it with you. I wish i’d brought more of the shampoo that i use at home. The Chinese shampoo just doesn’t seem to wash my hair as well as the local stuff i bought here. On the same note, if you use moisturiser, bring some with you. In some of the more rural, or out of town areas it can be difficult to buy one that’s not whitening. I can’t even get any at my local Avon stand, they only have whitening moisturiser. If i get any whiter i’ll glow…

    If you dye your hair any colour other than black, bring it with you! I had a disastrous experience trying to keep my beautiful purple tresses when i used a local brand. Chinese hair is stronger than Western hair, so the chemicals in the dye are stronger. I ended up with a small chemical burn on my head. I learnt my lesson and bring my own dye now 😉

    Vitamins! The Chinese don’t like to take vitamins, so if you have a particular brand that you like, stock up. You can find vitamins, but they’re usually brandless and you can’t read what’s in them. The students can’t always translate either.

    I’d recommend bringing a fitted or elasticated sheet. I haven’t been able to find one in the last 2 years here. Most of the mattresses are shiny and without a fitted sheet you spend half the night untangling yourself from the undersheet – for some reason Chinese sheets are made to just lay on top of the mattress, they’re not big enough to tuck in. A fitted sheet underneath not only holds your sheet in place, but also provides another barrier between you and a mattress that’s been slept on by who knows how many people.

    If you can’t fit everything in your luggage, post some over. Most universities won’t mine receiving a parcel or two. Both of the Unis i’ve taught at have received boxes from me before i got here (I’ve got a ridiculously long inside leg and get paranoid about not having trousers…). I just explained that i needed to send clothes because i can’t buy them in China, and that i wanted to send my textbooks over and they were heavy. Both Universities were great and put the boxes in my apartment ready for me when i got here. It can be a bit expensive sending stuff like that, but when it’s cold, or your jeans have a hole in them, it’s worth every penny to remember that there’s extra clothing or a new pair of jeans in a box!


  2. Rabia says:

    i’m going to china for an exchange program for about two weeks. i’ll be staying in urumqi for a few days and will then leave for jinan. i’ll be going in june so what kind of clothing is preferable? i’ve checked many websites but they all have different opinions. please do assist me on this. oh! and how much money should i carry?


  3. Bri says:

    Ok some updates for you.

    I lived in Xi’an for quite a while, and I’m here to tell as a 5’8, 160 lb, size 9 shoe wearing woman: I found what I needed as far as clothing. The only thing I was not able to find for me was bras.

    You have to know where to look!

    Shopping malls, big ones that are nationwide like Golden Eagle, had my shoe size in shoe brands I recognized in the women’s shoes department. I was also able to buy guys shoes.

    Bottoms were a bit difficult. Semir was the only store that had bottoms that fit me. That being said, I did not need jeans while I was there because I had brought my own out of fear of being too tall for Chinese clothing. I was able to find denim and non denim shorts and capris that fit me easily.

    Shirts can be found anywhere! I got tshirts in the Muslim District for a great bargain. Nicer tops were found at, surprise, Wal-Mart! Wal-Mart had some really cute stuff, too that I get compliments on every time I wear it.

    Yes, it is going to take some time and digging to find clothes that fit us because we are overall bigger than the Chinese. Don’t give up and don’t use American common sense. Things don’t function “our way” in China. Part of the experience is the hunt.

    Also, find other foreigners who live in the area and see where they go. In Xi’an there was a whole international community by the Wild Goose Pagoda, as well as the other foreign students at my university. The most fun place to go is the places where you can bargain. Cute clothes, great price. And you can find American, or at least fake American, brands. I found Levi’s.

    HAVE FUN! Once you take a chill pill, China will embrace you. I miss it terribly. Enjoy your time there.


  4. Lori Ann says:

    “If your clothing size unusually large” is emphasized as for whether you should bring in your own clothes, but that’s not been my experience… I am actually quite small (5’5″, 110lbs) in my home country but still have trouble finding clothing in China with sleeves and legs long enough. I know I could get stuff tailor-made, but I wouldn’t want to show up expecting to have my whole wardrobe done that way!


  5. Bri says:

    Why can’t I bring renminbi with me? I’ll need it to get a cab to my university.


    Allanon Reply:

    Hello Bri ,

    You can bring RMB with you – I know I did . I changed a few hundred dollars in Vancouver’s airport before my flight to Beijing .


    Courtney Reply:

    You aren’t legally supposed to bring it into the country to avoid fraud, if they search your bag and find it you may be detained.


  6. Daniel says:

    I don’t know how to put this nicely. They STINK big time. Period. And I am referring to body odor specifically.

    However, I managed to find Nivea deodorants in Watsons in Daliang, a small town near Guangzhou. To my misfortune, I am allergic to Nivea products.

    What is really IMPOSSIBLE even to explain, much less find, is foot powder. I brought one from my country, I am almost running out of it, and I don’t know where to find it. I even had to show it to one of my colleagues to make myself clear and he said “What’s that?” They really have no idea whatsoever about hygiene products.


  7. Robert Vance says:


    Thanks for the story! I assumed that Kunming would have deodorant since so many foreigners live there. However, I have not observed that Chinese people “stink like the rest of us.” Not from sweat at least. It was always my understanding that because of their diet, they wouldn’t have such a strong body odor. I would be interested to hear what others have to say about this…


  8. Tim says:

    If you want deodorant in China, you had better take it with you! My family and I have lived in China since May 2003, working for an English consultation company. Deodorant is nearly impossible to find in large or small cities! In 2005, we ran out of it on accident. I thought, “How hard could it be to find here?” WOW was that the understatement of the year!! After 10 days of searching with NO success at all we had to send out an SOS and have it sent from the USA. We live in Kunming which is a city of 4 million + people and I traveled to Beijing and guangzhou during this period which are even larger cities of 9 and 10 million people. NO DEODOARNT ANYWHERE! Not even in the Walmart stores! Avon is very popular in China with stores in most cities. Avon didn’t carry it and when I asked the clerk about it, she had no idea what I was talking about or what it was. And with all due respect, diet has nothing to do with personal hygiene. The Chinese people in general lack severely in the personal hygiene area. They stink just like the rest of us! And they choose not to use western hygiene products to correct this problem. We have seen it nationwide in China. Breath, teeth, body odor, etc; it is a personal hygiene dilemma!


  9. […] more helpful tips about what to bring and what NOT to bring to China, click here for our feature on packing for […]

  10. 尼克 says:

    Why not bring Chinese money in to China?


  11. Robert Vance says:


    You’re right! Spanish somehow ended up in there. That’s a mistake. I’m tempted to just leave it in there for a while though and see who else notices. And yes, clothing sizes can be difficult. Fortunately, I am a little shorter than the average American height so I can usually find what I need here.


    Interesting comment. I have heard about people having trouble finding shoes in China. So what can you do if don’t find your shoe size? Go barefoot? Ask for shoes from your home country? I guess that would be a difficult situation.


    Gifts are a great idea! I have heard of ESL teachers bringing pennies from America to give to their students and little trinkets for their Chinese colleagues.I guess the only downside is the extra space that you have to create for that stuff in your luggage but it’s still a good idea!


  12. Demerzel says:

    You forget a very important aspect for the guanxi: gifts!!

    Bring very country-specific (or city, region, etc) gifts for people you will meet and befriend. It’s a great way to quickly warm up with people.


  13. Turtlewind says:

    Shoes! Western sizes just aren’t available in China, even in big cities. You can find a decent sized shirt or pair of jeans without too much trouble, but hunting for a pair of size 10 work shoes is just setting yourself up for failure.


  14. Daniel says:

    “15. Radio (it’s fun to listen to the local Spanish radio stations)”

    Hello, Robert!

    Is it possible to listen to Spanish radio stations in China? I live in Guangdong and all I get is Cantonese, not even Mandarin.

    About clothing items, let me just tell you that clothes in China are designed to the Chinese male physique, that is, they don’t fit me. I brought a lot of clothes from my country. I have done some shopping here and yes, the prices are crazy low, but I have had problems with the sizes here.

    Comprehensive list, though.


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