If you are moving to China there are some things that are harder to come by, while other things can be surprisingly common.
If you are over size 16 you may have a hard time finding clothes in Chinese stores. There are western stores like Gap, Guess, Abercrombie & Fitch, but only in the bigger cities and can be much more expensive. If you find yourself in a smaller city, you may only have H&M and if you’re lucky other random global shops. China is also a great place to have things made for you at the big fabric markets, all you need to do is bring a photo of what you would like made and they can tailor it to you. Same goes for leather shoes and boots.
Summers are very hot and humid. So bring light cottons, dresses and shorts. Winter is a bit chilly, no matter where you are. Homes, schools and businesses are not heated in the same way and the electric heaters can be a bit expensive to run, so people tend to layer up. I didn’t take this seriously when I was packing, being Canadian, I figured ‘what is an average monthly winter temperature of 5 degrees? I can handle it, right?’ I ended up buying leggings, gloves, hats and scarves and fitted my bed with an electric blanket!
So bring a good selection of year round clothes for indoor and outdoor wear.
#2 That time of the month
When I first sent an email to my future colleague in China, I asked what I should bring. She said, TAMPONS. There are a lot of pads here, ones with nice scents, ones with a nice warming feeling, big ones, long ones, thick ones. Where were the tampons, or if not, where were the organic pads?! There is a Canadian brand I have never seen in Canada called Asana, and there are OB tampons everywhere. A few stores now stock Tampax but they are crazy expensive. If you haven’t yet tried the Diva Cup, or an alternate brand, I’d suggest giving it a try.
For those of you using birth control, be warned you may not be able to find your brand and some girls say they have bad reactions to Chinese brands. The two big brands used here are Yasmin and Diane 35. There are western medical clinics here that could order in some for you, but it would come at a cost.
Make sure you stock up on pads, tampons, bring a Diva cup, or ask a doctor for about a year’s supply of your birth control or other options. Maybe even ask your mom, sister or aunt to send you a monthly care package!!
Most Chinese cities (even the smaller ones) have a nice mall or twenty and they will have a department store with Maybelline, MAC, Sephora and the lot. They do have an import tax on them so prices will seem a bit high compared to what you are used too.
If you are like me and want to spend the least amount possible on make-up. I got my dad (yep, love him) to go to the local pharmacy to pick up my favourites and bring them to me when he came to visit.
Depending on what city you are in, you can ask around in the GGI communities as there are locally made products by expats that use all-natural ingredients. We will connect you of course. But, if you’re faves are affordable in your home town then definitely stock up.
Bring doubles of your day-to-day make up if you usually stick to a particular product.
If your feet are bigger than a US 9, you may find it difficult to find you favorite type of shoes in China. Chinese women on average have smaller feet and my friends with large sizes have a hard time finding their size at all, let alone good quality shoes. Bring a good pair of boots, sneakers, heels, sandals and whatever you think you'll need. If you’re a heels kind of girl, careful with the uneven sidewalks, they're everywhere. Don’t worry about slippers or indoor sandals, they can be found at every supermarket.
#5 Western Medicine
I nearly forgot. When you first get to China you will have a period of adjustment where your body gets used to the food, air and water. Bring cold and flu tablets, antacids, an inhaler if you had previously needed one, allergy pills, cough syrup, pain reliever and I'd suggest any vitamins you’d usually take. I brought activated charcoal, digestive enzymes, caffeine infused pain killers, cold and flu meds and allergy pills.
Stock up on your regular cold medicines.
#6 A taste of home
Most grocery stores have an import section and so it’s easy to generally find food to satisfy cravings from home. There are a number of expat grocery stores in places like Shanghai, Beijing and Chengdu and online grocery delivery services that have the hard to find things like tortillas, bagels, canned goods, sausage and cheese.
A few websites are
Western restaurants can be both good and bad. Ask your colleagues or GGI groups for recommendations. The way China is going, if you are craving something in particular, there is probably a shop or restaurant that have it.
There are also popular foodie apps in English (BonApp) to find good Western restaurants. It really all depends on the city in China you are moving too.
If you have a favourite chocolate or wine you’d like to have on your birthday in China, and have the discipline to save it for that special day, throw it in your luggage!
If you like to read, your best bet is to stock up on electronic copies on your phone or iPad or get an electronic reader. There are English bookstores around, and through I do love a real book, electronic copies just make it easier.
You can easily find art supplies, yarn, computers and all adapters, as well as calligraphy classes, music classes, gyms, sports teams, rock climbing, yoga classes, friends to go hiking with, pottery studios, cycling groups, leather working classes, and even flower arranging in coffee shops! China has no shortage of things to do in the bigger cities. If you are in a small Chinese city, and you miss crafting, start a little group!
Books and magazines in any language other than Chinese are hard to find but there is a good selection online and in a small number of bookstores (ask around for locations).
#8 Hair products
Blonde hair dye is tough to find. If you have a hair colour you want to stick with, bring it along. There are Western salons with Western stylists in the bigger cities but again there will be a premium on the cost.
Bring a DIY kit from home if you are in a smaller Chinese city. Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu have lots of salons though to choose from so no need to fret.
Blondes have more fun? Well you can spot them a mile away in China and sometimes it’s easier to blend in.
You're moving to a new country, so expect the unexpected. Go with the flow. Adapt, Yes, there is Durian pizza, sweet tomato sauce on spaghetti, no rules on the road, intense glitter on shoes, misspelt engrich everywhere. But there is also amazing street food markets, local indie coffee shops, friendly people, expats that own and run French bakeries, German breweries, American donut shops and second hand clothing shops and generally anything you may need. It’s going to be amazing and overwhelming, frustrating and inspiring. Just call it a ‘China Day’ relax with a good book on your eReader and take it all in.
What to bring :
Year round clothes, both warm and cool weather
Pads, tampons and birth control if you use it
Treats from home, photos, a book or two (or an eReader)
Computers and other electronics (adaptors but they can be found easily)
Your favourite make up, cleansers or creams