At this time of year, contracts are being negotiated and signed, health tests are being done, and visa’s are being issued. Newbies are planning to come to China for the very first time and are probably thinking a lot about what to bring. Before I came to China I wrote some advice about how to pack, but now that I’ve been here for a couple of years I thought I’d list specific things to make the packing list a little easier. These are my top 5 packing essentials when coming to China.
1) Medication. This one is important for obvious reasons. If you use medicine regularly, even over-the-counter medicine, bring it with you. Sure there are pharmacies all over China but they are a far cry form CVS and very foreigner unfriendly. Packages are all in Chinese, behind the counter (so you have to ask for it by name) and have little to no English on them. Also finding well-known foreign brands is difficult. No Tylenol or NyQuil, no Neosporin or Benadryl. So if you need something, play it safe and bring it with you.
2) Shoes. I wear a very reasonable (and average) women’s size eight and a half shoes in America. But apparently in China I am some sort of freakish big-footed monster because they don’t make women shoes that fit me. My foot size translates to 41 in China, and women’s shoes stop at 40. I even went shoe shopping in a big city with many foreigners (because I really wanted fake UGG boots called UCC) and they didn’t have anything bigger than a 40. So if you want nice shoes, bring them along or learn to shop on the internet.
3) Pants. This is the same vein as the shoes. Chinese people are just smaller: smaller hips, smaller thighs smaller everything. So pants that are big enough for a laowei are difficult to find. Of course in the top-tier cities you can find some western shops with larger sizes, but smaller and lesser known cities don’t have much to offer. (I’ve also heard that northern China has bigger sized pants because people are bigger up there, but so far this is just a rumor. I will investigate it this summer.)
4) Kindle. I moved here without a Kindle and somehow lived. (But was it living really?) Now that I have it I wouldn’t give it up for all the money in the world. Finding English books is possible here (in bigger cities), but supply is severely limited and the price is unnecessarily high so the Kindle is a godsend. I have the cheaper wifi version, but I don’t use the wifi that often. Instead I download books directly to my computer and transfer them via the cord using Calibre (a free e-book management software). Everything works great and getting e-books from any online source is no problem at all. (You can also see a list of the books I’ve read this year here.)
5) Deodorant. Even though temperatures regularly reach 100 in the summertime and even though Chinese people sweat, deodorant is a little used product here. In fact, it is very difficult to find. Sold mostly in little makeup shops or large chain stores, deodorant usually has a small display in some out of the corner shelf with just a few containers available. I don’t know why deodorant isn’t huge here, but it’s not. So bring your supply with you.
And one thing NOT to bring:
1) Fancy clothes. I have had an outrageously expensive dinner with a mayor at a top end restaurant, and have been to a wedding and not once have I needed to dress up. In both cases a simple polo shirt and khakis more than sufficed. (For the wedding I could have worn jeans and a t-shirt and fit in with the locals.) I don’t know what occasions Chinese people dress formal for, but I have yet to find it. So save room in your luggage and leave out the suit and evening gown. You just won’t need it.
Ex-pats, what essentials do you recommend newbies bring with them? Or what can you not live without? I’m curious to hear your essentials. List them in the comments!
Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker.Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker. Doing all three in China
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I had no idea that pants and shoes would be so difficult to find, but that does make sense.
I was an expat in England for a couple of years, and I mainly wanted to bring baking mixes (brownies, cakes) with me when I returned from the states. Have you found yourself missing baked goods?
One of my coworkers at the time was so worried about finding feminine hygiene products that she actually calculated how many she would need and brought over a complete 2 year supply! Hopefully that’s not been an issue for you!
Wow! how amazing that you are living in China doing what you love! Reminds me a bit of Eat Pray Love – well…without the divorce part from the first chapter…or the Italian language love affair…or…ok maybe its NOTHING like that..it was just the first thing that came to mind.
I lived in Spain in college and that was awesome – cheating though because I speak Spanish. I would love to live in an Asian country – my husband is military and we are hoping to get orders to Japan..but we will see what happens. =)
p.s. Kindle is magical wherever you are <3
what a great list! loved it! how wonderful that you and your hubby are sharing this experience together! waving, your hostess!
Reading through your tips, I could say that you are writing from experience. Thanks. These tips are very helpful as I plan to visit a friend there in December. How is the transportation sector over there? I mean, any experience on car rentals and the types of cars they are using? Thank you very much!
Carmen, I think it would be great if you got over to this side of the world. Asian culture is just so incredibly different I think everyone should experience once in their lives!
Bakeries are really big in China, but of course, a little different than the ones back home. Everything is very sweet, including the bread, and I really miss crunchy, yeasty french bread and things like soft, fresh rolls. Ovens in the home are extremely rare, and so are things like brownies and cupcakes, which I do miss (but maybe it is better for me healthwise!) We have a toaster oven and everyone thinks we are fancy!
And in China the women vastly out-populate the men, so hygiene products are not a problem here! 😉
Do I need an ipod?
Well, I have an ipod touch, and I can’t live without it. I use it for the english/chinese dictionary, for keeping notes, for taking pictures (and I even listen to music every now and then). But I think I’m the only foreign teacher to have an ipod, and somehow they all seem to manage to live without it. So I’d say it’s up to you, but I am very, very happy to have one.
I’ve just came back from China. There is one thing I really recommend, the wet toilet paper.
In the big city, there is no problem everything there is great. However, in the rural area of China, the toilet is quite not good. You’ll be happy if you bring some good toilet paper.
Don’t forget to bring this from you shelf, trust me.
I found your information very helpful, I’m moving to China for work for a year in a small city called Yuxi close to Kunming.
I’m looking into purchasing a kindle this week for China, I was told I wouldn’t be able to download books from amazon etc, do you know how i can get around it if I get a kindle in the UK?
Cannot imagine not being able to read!
Hey Judy! I’ve been able to download books no problem. I had it sent to the kindle e-mail address over my wifi and it works. But like I said i usually just download books to my computer, add it to calibre and then transfer it via a wire from calibre to the kindle. That way I have all my books organized via a “library” I can look at, but I don’t have my Kindle all clogged up. (I usually keep about 150 books on my Kindle at a time but I have almost 1000 in my e-library.
But anyway, to answer your question I have been able to download books via the email address. Honestly I have never tried to do it directly, but I think you can. I don’t see why it would be blocked in China, amazon isn’t.