Aaron’s Personal Story

When Rachael and I first came to China in 2008 we just married and we were combining all of our life possessions while preparing to come to China. The task was intense and chaotic. I decided to convince Rachael to leave behind everything that had a “Made In China” label with the logic we can just buy that in China when we get there. Rachael was never convinced I knew what I was talking about, but we needed some filter as to what to leave behind. In hindsight, that is a good rule of thumb — “only bring what you can’t buy in China.” But, in reality, many, many products have a “Made in China” label and never make it to the China market. I found a good article written by the folks at Lost Laowai and I’m sure you’ll find it helpful. In May SIAS emails out a packing list and for those super planners, that’s too late. So read below and begin packing early! -Aaron

What to bring to China

what-to-bring_suitcasePacking to come to China can be exciting or absolutely terrifying—or perhaps, a mixture of both! Though China is definitely a foreign country, it is not a third-world country, and you may be surprised with what you are able to purchase online through services like Tao Bao and even in local clothing stores and markets. Yet, it is always good to come prepared, to have the brands you trust and depends upon and to have those little touches of home in your new China home. Therefore, we have compiled the list below to help you while packing. It is not, by any means, an exhaustive list of items to bring, but hopefully this list will help you as you take the first step to making China your reality.

Also, it is good to remember that if you plan to return for a second year abroad it is recommended to take inventory of your supplies (listed in detail below) and bring an empty piece of luggage to refill once you go back home.


It can be difficult to locate English literature in China, even while living on a college campus that prides itself on its English language degree programs. However, it is not impossible to find English books here.
In some mid-sized cities, like Zhengzhou, you may be able to find some English books, but they will be a very slim selections. You would have to travel to larger cities like Shanghai, Beijing, or Guanzhou to find a larger selection.
Some teachers have had luck ordering books from online bookstores such as Better World Books, Amazon.cn, and Blue Fountain. However, you also need to place your trust in the Chinese postal system which has been known to lose packages occasionally.
Therefore, your best best is to move toward reading digital books. If you download the OverDrive APP, you can search for your local library, input your library card information, and still have access to the library’s online reading database. This service and APP is free just like using your local library. However, ebooks can only be checked out for two weeks at a time. Of course, you can always still purchase books for your e-reader with the help of a VPN. Either way, we can all agree that ebooks are the best way to travel light.

Herbs & Spices

Western herbs and spices are difficult to find in China. Of course, you’re always welcome to experiment with the commonly used Chinese spices found in the local market. Still, many of them are hard to identify or just different from what our palettes are used to. Therefore, it is recommended to bring an assortment of the spices you normally cook with (thyme, oregano, rosemary, cinnamon, vanilla, etc.). Spices are light weight and easy to transport in checked baggage. Once you arrive, you may be able to explore or experiment with the spices and herbs in the local market, or perhaps you can find some of your favorites on TaoBao.


While some may opt to bring only digital photos, it is advisable to also bring some printed photos. They are good for making your apartment feel more like home, and they are good conversation-starters when you have guests over—especially for Chinese guests.
Once you arrive, you may discover that the Chinese have a growing curiosity about life in Western countries. They will ask you about your hometown, your family, your old job—and they love to see photos!


Of course there’s no shortage of clothing in China; however, while many brands are affordable, they are cheaply produced, threatening to fall apart before you get out of the shop. Or, you may find clothing on the other end of the spectrum: that is durable (or stylish) but expensive. Therefore, you may wish to bring an assortment of clothes that you know fit, are comfortable, and are durable.

For daily life in Xinzheng, you will definitely want to bring some comfortable shorts, jeans, t-shirts, and sweaters. While summers are relatively hot (averaging in the 90s Fahrenheit), we do get snow in the winters. So, you want to bring a mix of warm and cool clothes for your first year. You should also bring an assortment of professional wear for teaching in the classroom. Teachers are expected to wear slacks (or skirts/dresses) with a button-up shirt, polo, or blouse for class and office hours.

Whether we are traveling during breaks or just going through our daily grind, we walk A LOT in China. So comfortable shoes are a MUST. Therefore, another must-have item is at least two pairs of comfortable shoes. You will want a sturdy pair of tennis shoes for the weekends and for traveling, but you will also need some comfortable and durable dress shoes to teach in as tennis shoes are not permitted in the classroom.

If you plan to purchase clothing after arrival, you should be aware that size can be a problem. If you are a bit husky or rather tall you will definitely want to devote as much luggage space as possible to clothes in your size. The same can be said about shoes (most retailers don’t stock over size 44EUR/10US), undergarments and socks.



While some prescription medications can be purchased OTC the counter in China, not all prescriptions are available here. For your first year, you may want to check with your doctor about getting a large amount of your prescription medications filled for this first year. This way you will not be without your prescriptive medications if the Chinese pharmacy does not carry them.
Also, you may want to bring some trusted OTC brands such as NyQuil, stronger Tylenols, Pepto-Bismol, Imodium, Benadryl, Tums, tenser bandages, Neosporin and anything else that you could fit into your luggage without taking up too much space.
You should also pack a few small bottles of hand sanitizer to help prevent the spreading of germs. Hand sanitizer is not easily found overseas.

You may be able to find some antiperspirant or deodorant while living in China, but if you have allergies or preferences for a certain brand or scent, you will want to bring a supply of your own.

Oral Hygiene
Don’t worry about toothbrushes here in China. You can find them in shops at nearly every corner, even in some of the smaller cities. However, if you are an avid fluoride user, you may want to bring a supply of your own toothpastes and/or a good fluoride rinse or mouth wash to prevent cavities. You cannot drink tap water in China because of contamination. Therefore, we drink a lot of bottled water which does not contain fluoride (which some doctors still believe to be helpful in cavity prevention.).
You may also want to bring your own floss, especially if you need a special kind of floss for braces, bridges, or crowns.

While there is various scents of cologne and perfume available, if you are loyal to a certain brand or scent, you should bring it with you. There are some Western brands of perfume/cologne available on TaoBao, but you will probably pay more for these brands since they are shipped internationally. Also, you run the risk of buying a tampered product. Many street vendors offer American name brands for a decent price, but they smell more like rubbing alcohol or water than the scent desired.

Cosmetics, even popular American brands, can be found in a few shops in China with some digging. However, if you are brand-loyal or you suffer with allergies, it is better to bring a supply of your own.

Feminine Products
If you’ll be traveling to China (or staying long-term) during your cycle, you will definitely want to bring your own feminine napkins or tampons. The feminine napkins produced and sold here in China are cheaply made and not dependable. In addition, tampons are next to impossible to find. So, ladies—bring a healthy supply.

Article written by Kayla Dean

AIA Article “Recommended Reading List” also has a few suggested other things to buy before you go. Especially Hand Sanitizer.

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