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12 Things to Bring When You Move to China

Picture of Rachel Deason
Updated: 14 February 2017
As China opens up and welcomes more foreign brands into the country, it is getting easier to find the products you are used to from back home. However, whether it be for reasons of scarcity, import taxes, or otherwise, there are some things that are better off purchased at home and stuck in your suitcase. Here are 12 essentials for your move to China.

Tampons

You can buy tampons at import stores in major cities like Shanghai or Beijing, or online throughout China, but most major drug and grocery stores do not carry them. If they do, the tampons usually come in tiny boxes with plastic applicators. Culture Trip recommends buying in bulk before your move and stuffing the feminine hygiene products between your clothes, where they will take up less room than you might think.

Baby formula

Much of the baby formula produced within China is counterfeit, or worse, tainted with melamine (as in the 2008 milk scandal). As a result, many Chinese moms are willing to pay top dollar for imported brands. Be smart and save money by bringing your preferred brand of baby formula with you.

Baby Formula Advert in HK | ©IQRemix/Flickr
Baby Formula Advert in HK | ©IQRemix/Flickr

Stain remover to go

Chinese food loves its oil. Chinese food is eaten with chopsticks. Add those two statements together and you will start to understand why it’s so necessary to carry portable stain remover with you.

VPN

A VPN, or virtual private network, is not something that can be packed in a suitcase. Nevertheless, a VPN subscription for your computer and phone is an essential purchase to make before entering the country. Many VPN websites are blocked by the Great Firewall, making it a pain to find a suitable download method.

Makeup

This one is more subjective than others. Most large cities contain western makeup stores like Sephora as well as more Korean makeup brands than you thought possible, but some of the brands you are used to from home may not be available, and if they are, they are likely to carry import taxes. Before your move, research the availability of your preferred products and pack accordingly.

Ibuprofen, Allergy Pills, and other medications

One amazing thing about China is the ubiquity of pharmacies. These drug stores stock remedies for nearly all imaginable maladies; however, again, the brands are not the same as those you are used to from home. This is particularly the case with ibuprofen and allergy pills. The most readily available ibuprofen in China comes as a minty powder that you mix with water, and it’s not nearly as strong of a dose as brands like Advil or Motrin. Culture Trip recommends stocking up on these items before transit.

Photographs and other personal items

Some things cannot be purchased, full stop. Every foreigner in China has the occasional “China day” when culture shock resurfaces and homesickness looms. For moments like this, hard photographs and other personal items are invaluable.

Boxed foods…like mac and cheese and cereal

If you’re going to a large city in the east, chances are you won’t have too difficult a time finding classically western boxed foods. However, as is the case with several other items on this list, import taxes make things very expensive. Packing a few of your favorites from home is a great way to combat the lonely first weeks in China.

Deodorant

It often surprises expats that deodorant is almost nonexistent in China. This is because most East Asians carry a genetic mutation that makes their bodies produce no odor from sweat. So, if you can find deodorant at all, it will likely be much weaker than the brands from back home. If you produce a lot of body odor, and especially if you require a clinical strength deodorant, make sure to stock up on this product before coming to China.

Coffee

Yes, Starbucks has taken over China just as much as it has the rest of the world. However, good instant coffee is still hard to find. Need an extra kick to get going in the morning? Consider bringing it with you.

Contact Lens solution

Contact lens solution is available in China but at a higher price than it is back home. Furthermore, it must be purchased at a special eyeglasses or contact lens store and is largely unavailable at drug and grocery stores.

Hand sanitizer

When you move to China, you will quickly learn that public restrooms in the country do not always follow the same level of hygiene as you might be used to. Many toilets are squatters, toilet paper is often something you have to provide yourself, and hand soap is so rare you’d think there was a national shortage. Thus, portable hand sanitizer is a must for anyone who values cleanliness.

Men's Restroom in Rural China | ©Preston Rhea/Flickr
Men’s Restroom in Rural China | ©Preston Rhea/Flickr