What on earth do you pack to go to China?
I’m Kwadwo, creator here at Elementary Chinese and I’ve lived in China for 11 years. I’ve made the long-haul international trip back to the US at least 15 times — since 2009 — so I’m going to share with you the things that you should definitely include in your luggage for a smooth arrival and to minimize culture shock.
From cold and flu medicine to wireless hair trimmers, I give you an incredibly detailed list of all the things I can’t live without in China.
Learning Chinese Before You Arrive
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The number one problem with my students is speaking the everyday Chinese that they need to communicate what they want. They want to be able to speak to taxi drivers, count to ten, use Chinese APPS, get deliveries to their homes, and how to ask their neighbors to be quiet.
If you want your Chinese to thrive, us my day-to-day Mandarin secrets to supercharge your language learning.
What’s in my suitcase?
Ninja tip: use ziplock bags. Throw your clothes in them and sit on them to reduce space. Or, use packing cubes like a normal person. But, that is way too sensible and boring. Ziplock bags are multi-functional and fun.
Can you imagine? Yes, you didn’t hear incorrectly. You can’t get good chapstick here in China. I really like Burts Bees and always stock up when I go back to the US.
They do have Razors here in China but they just aren’t as good. If you want that silky smooth feeling that you only get with three-blade razors then I’d stock-pile.
Oral Hygiene Products
Anything oral hygiene-related I’d recommend purchasing in your home country. Dental floss is available here but it’s only the thick kind that tears your gums apart. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Dental care isn’t of the same standard as in the US so I’d take your favorite toothbrush or five to last your stint until a family member or friend can kindly bring one to replace it. If you use normal toothbrushes they are widely available but I can only find the very soft brushes which tend to last a week before disintegrating.
So, if you use an electric toothbrush you’ll be sure to be keeping those pearly whites, white. Chinese food is the bomb, but it’s a little harsh on the breath.
If you’re a guy and you are above a US size 12 you probably want to get your shoes from the US. I love casual shoes but without a proper sole they wear down super easily and end up with holes. Grey converses are my go-to as they are so durable and hide dirt easily. If you need a pair of dress shoes I can whole-heartedly recommend J&M because they wear really well.
Boy oh boy. I’m sure you can get these on Taobao nowadays but for good quality resistance bands, you’ll want to pick these up in your home country.
If you’re coming to China to be a Teacher you need to bring your coolest most useful teaching tools. Check out all the teaching tools I recommend bringing and why is this post: What To Bring To China For Teaching English.
Oh, and Sharpies. You can get markers here but the quality isn’t the best. And, I’ve never found rainbow Sharpies in China which, to be honest, are my favorite.
I know what you’re thinking, Chinese books? But, I’m coming to China, surely I can buy them here. Yes, and no. Dodgy copies? Maybe. Super expensive copies because they are imported, yes. Just get them at home and bring them over, it will save you time and money.
Three books I recommend bringing:
For other books that you might want to get your hands on check out my giant resource of Best Books To Learn Chinese. I’ve done the hard work for you by reviewing a ton of workbooks, textbooks, fun books, books for beginners, books to learn Chinese Characters, and more. Take the hassle out of deciding and watch my honest, authentic reviews to help you decide which book to buy when learning Chinese.
For some reason, I’m always catching colds in China. Maybe it’s because the germs here are different so your body’s defensives are all confused and trying to fight off all the crazy new things that are attacking your immune system. Make sure to pack some cold and flu tablets like DayQuil. You will be so happy when you realize you’ve thought ahead and brought some of these because they are definitely not available in China, and you don’t want to be fobbed off with some unrecognizable Chinese medicine. This is your health we’re talking about!
Emergency immune packets are also a great shout. These are not only for curing hangovers, my friend.
Pollution masks. The pollution ain’t great here. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s always playing havoc with my sinuses. Get yourself a decent quality face mask. This one is great for people who wear glasses too because it fits snuggly on your nose and you can still wear your glasses. Always try and get one that has that little air filter because it’s much more effective.
Sunscreen is available (sometimes, some places) but if you’re looking for something with a higher SPF for your children I’d recommend picking up a bottle or two at home first. Also, remember that Chinese folk like to be white so there might be some nasty whitening chemicals in lotions, and it’s not always clearly advertised on the bottle because the bottle might be in Chinese for instance.
For us blokes, and I can imagine for women too it’s kinda difficult to find somewhere that will know how to cut our type of hair. Chinese hair is very different from Western hair. It falls differently, it’s very straight and they generally go for one style.
I’ve been carrying a wireless clipper set for the past decade and it has done me proud. Never do I have to worry about someone cutting my hair too short again. Yes, it’s already very short – shh guys.
Oh and pick up the voltage converter for it so it doesn’t explode.
You better bring an external hard drive to back-up all of the stuff you care about. Otherwise, those pictures that you spent so much time taking might not make it back with you. Remember to purchase one that is suitable for your type of PC or Mac. Sometimes these external hard drives are funny about those things. You’d think they’d all be interchangeable by now, but nope.
Make sure you purchase luggage with four wheels on the bottom. Oh my, I cannot express how much this has saved me. Whoever invented these needs some serious praise.
Do not get soft luggage otherwise, your stuff will get crushed in the long-haul international flight.
You probably want to bring all your favorite clothes here, especially your favorite brands. We do have H&M, Gap, Forever 21, Zara, Uniqlo, and Old Navy. Here you can get sizes that will fit you but you might struggle with independent stores selling teeny tiny Chinese sizes.
I’d recommend just going for a cheap no-name brand for your larger piece of luggage but I’d definitely invest in something more sturdy for your carry-on. You’ll most likely be holidaying in Thailand or Vietnam, because sun, and no pollution. You’ll thank yourself later.
Oh and my favorite weekend bag. I go up to Beijing when I’m filming with this snazzy leather bag and it gets me tons of compliments. There is room for your laptop and tons of secret pockets for keeping things organized.
I’m obsessed with this seasoning. I use it 6 days a week to season my eggs and I honestly almost have a breakdown if it runs out.
If you care about your unmentionables just bring them from the USA. Oh and quick last-minute note: I’ve heard along the grapevine that tampons are hard to source. There are a few international places that stock some brands but mainly they are applicator free. I dunno but some people are weirded out by that?!
A quick and important disclosure:
Some of the links above are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. I recommend them because they are helpful and useful.
The Great Firewall of China
Want to use the VPN I use for a stable, quick connection in China? I depend on it to upload more than six videos a week and live-stream on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. And here’s my second choice for a VPN. Plus, when you download from either link, they share some of the cost with me, so I can keep creating the videos you love.