10 items you should pack before coming to China

by Chelsea on September 12, 2012

Gum. 5-hour ENERGY. Floss. Tide instant stain remover pen. Several pounds of granola.

Everybody has that one thing they can’t live without and at the same time can’t find in China.

Must pack items when going to China

Some of the required packing items before leaving for China

For many people, it’s shoes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked away from stores with my self-confidence rudely turned down a notch by the giggling sales lady who says in Chinese “Haha, so big! We don’t have that size! Nobody does!”

Here is a starting place for items you may want to consider bringing from home that will make your time living in China easier.

While you can find many things at Western grocery stores, there’s no guarantee and stocks are not consistent, not to mention the inflated cost of imported foreign goods. It’s best to bring the items you can’t live without, such as:

  1. Deodorant

    You can find deodorant in China, but not as easily as you’d think (or wish or hope were the case)

  2. Face Wash

    Beware: many in China include a special whitening ingredient, even washes that look familiar are re-vamped for an Asian market that is obsessed with fair skin

  3. Tampons (and other items ladies use at that time of the month)

    ‘nuff said

  4. Medicines

    While you may be able to find some in China, the first time you get a wicked cold and have no Chinese, you’ll be so happy you have something sitting in your closet… consider bringing allergy medicine, pain relief, cough medicine, cough drops, and so on.

  5. A few of your favorite foods

    Maybe a few chocolate bars to tide you over…. pancake mix, granola bars, trail mix, a few meals-in-a-box to have on hand while you get yourself on your feet and accustom to your new local diet (not to mention figuring out how to order food!)

  6. Your favorite tea or coffee

    All the Brits I know have stocks of their favorite English teas.

    All the coffee addicts I know bring their own French press and stock up on bags of coffee when at home.

  7. E-reader

    It’s hard to find English language books in China, and so you might want to consider buying an e-reader that allows you to download books if you plan to be in China a long time.

  8. VPN

    A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is software you can download that essentially tricks your computer into thinking you IP address is somewhere other than China. You can visit all the sites China’s Great Firewall blocks…Facebook, Twitter, and so on.

    You can buy one while in China, but if you will want any type of help setting it up, probably better to do it in a place where you understand the language. Plus, some VPN download sites are blocked in China.

  9. Shoes

    It’s hard to find good quality affordable shoes in China. Think about what climate you’ll be living in, or potentially traveling to, and pack accordingly. Don’t forget you hiking sneakers or boots if that’s your thing, or running shoes if you insist on joining a gym, or flip flops for the warm weather.

  10. Photos of home

    This one is a little cheesy, but it’s important! Don’t forget to pack a few photos of friends and family to stick on your fridge or desk.

How about you? What items are a “must have” when you’re packing to live abroad (whether it be China or anywhere else where the grocery store stock is unfamiliar)? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

  • Bucko

    I totally agree with the coffee! The best is if you can manage to make a trip to Costco’s while you’re home and stock up on the wholesale bulk stuff. Funny thing is that I also seem to always come back to China missing a few items of clothing that must have gotten mixed in with my brothers’ and dad’s stuff while visiting. Well, you win some and you lose some!

    • jamar0033

      A note on Costco: If you need to stock up during your stay in China, the Costcos in Japan and Korea carry much of the same stuff the ones in America do, and they’re closer to boot.

  • Iamdanzinn

    Electronics — like my hard drives, flash drives, and iphone.  I don’t trust the stuff they sell me in China!

    • jamar0033

      But I don’t have to go ALL the way home for that, Japan’s right there.

      • http://www.rubberonroad.com/ Bucko

        The problem with Japan is that for some reason it can often be just as expensive to go to Japan as it is to fly from Beijing to New York. If you’re really looking to go to someplace nearby, forget Japan and go to Hong Kong. Because of the low taxes there, HK is probably the cheapest place to get quality electronics not just in Asia but globally as well. 

        • jamar0033

          The trick is to purchase frequent flyer miles. US Airways sometimes has double mile purchase promotions that put the cost of a economy class China-Japan ticket at around $500 (ticket issue fee and taxes included). Granted, you then have to spend time on the phone with them to get the ticket, but it’s cheaper than buying them the normal way.

        • LlamaOfDoom

          To add to the poster below me, this also works for business class- $1700 gets you three China-Japan roundtrips, though you then have to factor in ticket issue fees and the fact that with the merger coming up it might not happen anymore.

  • Me

    Coffee… my only must bring ;P

  • Annie

    Piggybacking on the face wash, I’d add in lotion for the same reason, unless you like the idea of slowly bleaching your skin…

  • Mathieson_amy

    I alway come back (from the UK) with English breakfast tea! It’s so true about the meds too, bring Imodium or other diarrhea pills, as the first time you get a bout here, you DO NOT want to be awkwardly explaining it to the lady behind the counter and then be handed something you need to take for 5 days running! Also, ladies, razors. Chinese women are not so keen on the ol’ shavin’ the legs over here. 

  • Tammy

    What a fantastic article! Really brought me back to the good times! I reckon another essential are stocking if you are on the taller side of average. The stockings I managed to find in Beijing were a little on the small side (i.e hello chaff) and were not great quality. 

    Missing you x x x 

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