What should you pack for your trip to China? Whether you’re an experienced traveler or this is your first time going overseas, it helps to know what is and isn’t available in a country like China so you can pack accordingly. Overpacking is a burden and under-packing is terribly uncomfortable. I’d like to share with you recommendations on what to pack for China (and what not pack) based on my own experience.
I don’t want to point out the obvious for you here (i.e. should you bring a good travel camera?) but I do want to share a few things that most travelers to China tend to overlook. There’s a big difference between traveling to Beijing or heading off into the mountain villages of Sichuan. What you pack will be different as well.
As you’re thinking through what to pack for China, carefully read through my suggestions below and plan accordingly. Based on the 10 years I’ve been traveling and living in China, I think you’ll be glad you did.
One more thing: To make things easier for you, you can also download my China packing checklist, a free one-page PDF that can help make sure you’re not forgetting anything as you pack. Click the button below and I’ll send it to you immediately:
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Hard-to-Find Essentials | What to Pack for China
Below are a few items that I’ve had a hard time finding during my travels around China. That’s not to say they can’t be found, but it’s certainly worth thinking about as you consider what to pack for China.
There are import stores in the big cities like Beijing and Shanghai where you can stock up on hard-to-find items, but since those places are often out of the way, I find it best to just plan ahead and pack it before you leave.
It’s better this way because then you not only get to pick your favorite brand but you also probably get a better price.
- Deodorant: I know quite a few travelers who just buy toiletries as they go but deodorant is one item that I specifically advise travelers to buy ahead of time. It’s not commonly used here in China (a fact which you’ll quickly discover if you travel on a crowded city bus!) and therefore the choices – if there are any – are quite scarce.
- Quick-Dry Clothes: Washing machines are everywhere here in China…driers are not. One of the best decisions I made was to start buying quick-dry briefs and quick-dry shirts. If you’re traveling around China during the summer, expect to be washing your clothes once a day or once every other day.
- Plug Converter: While everybody warns you that China runs on 220v instead of 110v, that’s really not a big deal. Most of our cellphones and computers can be plugged into 220v outlets (check the plug…it will usually say “110v-220v”). The problem arises when you want to plug in your two-prong or three-prong plug into a Chinese outlet. For that, you’ll need to make sure you have a light and cheap plug converter for China.
- Pepto-Bismol: I’ve lived here in China since 2006 and every time I return after an extended stay back in the U.S., my stomach always requires about a week to adjust to the unique Chinese cuisine. Pepto Bismol or some Immodium chewables will be a lifesaver when your stomach decides that it can no longer take the local food you’re ingesting. It’s possible to buy Pepto Bismol by itself, but you can also get it as part of a medical travel pack which includes a number of commonly-used medications.
- Sunscreen: Although it is possible to find sunscreen here in China, most of it comes with some form of skin-whitener, which is popular throughout Asia (and you may not care for). Just grab a small travel tube of sunscreen for your trip here and keep it on you for that time when you’re doing a lot of walking outside.
- Unlocked Phone: If you have a smartphone that is out of contract, figure out how to unlock it for your trip to China (for example, here’s a tutorial on how to unlock your AT&T iPhone). All you have to do once you arrive is buy a cheap SIM card (here’s how to get a SIM card for China) and you have an instant ability to communicate. If you’re not out of contract, you can consider only connecting via Wifi or renting a phone in China.
- Install a VPN: This isn’t necessarily something you pack, per se, but it is something you need to worry about before you land in China. A VPN is a software that allows you to connect to websites and apps that are blocked in China (here’s a list of blocked websites in China for reference). I recommend using ExpressVPN since it’s been extremely reliable for China users. Just make sure you purchase and install before you travel – it’s much harder to do from within China.
- Hand Sanitizer: While this isn’t a must, I have found it incredibly useful. Even something as simple as a sink with soap can be hard to come by, so a small travel bottle of your favorite sanitizer will put your mind at ease.
Often-Overlooked China Packing Tips
What I’ve shared above deals more with the day-to-day items of what to pack for China, but there are still some aspects of international travel – especially travel here in China – that are important to keep in mind. I’ll walk through a few of the most important ones below:
- Bring a Copy of Your Passport: You might also want to store it in a different bag than your actual passport. As an added security precaution, I make a digital scan of my passport and visa which I keep secured in the encrypted digital vault of a good password manager app.
- Don’t Bring Too Much Cash: Many people get worried about cash, especially if they’re traveling outside the big Chinese cities. Don’t be. ATMs are everywhere in China and provide a decent exchange rate. I don’t recommend using traveler’s checks, which are almost obsolete by now. My advice is to bring enough cash to live on for a few days (and split it among bags in case one gets lost/stolen), then either use your bank debit card or look into a global payment solution (I’ve recently started using this UnionPay card by eCard and it’s been awesome).
- Consider Chinese Luggage Requirements: Each airline has its own rules, but generally speaking, you can expect that most airlines won’t let you carry-on a bag that is more than 11 lbs in weight (5 kilograms). For checked baggage, it’s important to note that while the US usually allows you 50 lbs per bag, China limits you to 44 lbs (20 kilograms). Quick tip: if you’re worried about losing your luggage in China (which is not unheard of!), consider some travel insurance coverage before you leave.
Non-Essentials, But Very Helpful | Packing Checklist
The following are not essential things for what to pack for China, but I think you’ll find that it’s nice to have a few of them along with you.
- A China Travel Guide Book can be incredibly helpful during your journey, the only problem is that their heaviness can also be quite a burden. Thankfully most major travel publishers are doing eBook version of their guides so you can download the travel guide (with maps) onto your iPad, Android or Kindle. For those planning their first trip to China, I recommend a book I wrote called Travel to China: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go. If you’re looking for specific help with a particular city in China, you would probably benefit from city guides for major cities like Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong.
- A Mandarin phrasebook is also a huge help, especially if your Mandarin skills haven’t progressed beyond simple numbers and greetings. While it is definitely possible to travel to China without speaking Mandarin Chinese, there are quite a few free and paid Mandarin language resources that can be invaluable during your trip.
- Sign up for a Weixin (WeChat) account before you come to China. WeChat is an extremely popular social media app and pretty much everybody and their grandma has an account. While you’re traveling around, WeChat is one of the few ways you can grab somebody’s contact information since email isn’t as widespread or used very much.
Free Download: My China Packing Checklist
Has this list of what to pack for China been helpful? If so, then you might find even added value in the China packing checklist I’ve put together. Just click on the button below and I’ll send it immediately to your email account. Just print it off and you’ll be good to go!
Enjoy and please let me know in the comments if there’s anything you think I missed here. Safe travels!