Whether or not you’ve done a lot of traveling, if it’s your first time visiting China, there are a few additions and subtractions you will have to make to your “list of essentials” when packing for your trip. Unless you will be spending all your time in Beijing, Shanghai, or any other westernized Chinese city, you will have to channel your inner boy scout and come prepared.Clothing Essentials
If your clothes and shoes come in large or extra-large American or European sizes, or maybe even bigger, you should definitely bring as much of these as you can; these would include underwear and socks, of course.
If you can afford high-end products, then you would have no problem locating stores that sell these. Given that China has a relatively small middle-class population, however, merchandise that caters to this demographic is also small. Most likely, you would belong in this class, as most laowais in China do; so unless you want to wear poor quality garments and footwear that fall apart as soon as you hand over your payment, don’t pack lightly. Bring with you all the comfortable and decent-quality clothes that you can fit in your luggage.
Find out what the local climate is where you’re going; you may need to purchase seasonal clothing before you leave.Personal Hygiene Products and Medicines.
The brands you usually use may not be readily available in China; you can order online through Amazon.com or Ebay.com, but China’s postal system is not very reliable and you may end up experimenting with Chinese brands with funny or disturbing labels in English. You can also check Amazon.cn to see if they carry your brands, but you will have to pay using Chinese currency. Harder to find items include some brands of antiperspirant, cologne/perfume (especially if you have a favorite label/scent), mouthwash (often only available in big supermarkets), and dental floss.
Since medicines don’t take up too much space anyway, you might as well bring with you some generic brands for common ailments; but, generally, OTC pharmaceuticals are not hard to get in China.Cooking Supplies
If you like to cook, and especially if you are staying for an extended period in China and want to be able to prepare your favorite dishes, you may also want to bring some essential herbs and spices, such as oregano, thyme, and basil. It may take some time, but with some luck and a lot of footwork, you may eventually find a supplier who’s local. It might be a good idea, too, to bring seeds/roots of herbs and spices that you can grow yourself.Reading Materials
Books are bulky, yes, but stores that carry even the most widely printed English titles, as well as bestsellers, are far and few in between, unless you’re traveling to any of the big cities; those that carry genres and authors that are only popular in the west are even rarer. Again, ordering online is not highly recommended; but you can check Amazon.cn ahead of time to see if they have the titles you want.Photographs
You should bring prints or photos in digital format saved in a flash drive, your laptop, or your phone, especially if you’ve going to China to visit your girlfriend/future wife and her family, and even more so if you would be living for a few years in China. Your special Chinese lady and her family will definitely appreciate your sharing of these cherished pictures with them. If you know other laowais that live in the area that you’re traveling to, ask them about the availability of these essential items, and the brands you use in particular. If you’re a member of a reputable Chinese dating site, build connections with other foreigners who are already in China who can give you tips and, perhaps, even play host and/or guide; or search the internet for online laowai communities.
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