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What To Pack For China As An Expat


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Kalie Morrill



When it comes to moving to an exciting and vibrant country like China, proper planning and packing are key to ensuring a smooth transition and a comfortable life as an expatriate. Whether you’re relocating for work, study, or simply embracing a new adventure, knowing what to pack is crucial.


China is a vast and diverse country, with different climate zones and cultural norms depending on the region. As such, packing the right essentials will help you navigate the varied landscapes and adapt to the local lifestyle. From essential documents to clothing, electronics to toiletries, and everything in between, this comprehensive guide will outline the must-have items for expats heading to China.


It’s important to note that China offers a fascinating blend of modernity and tradition. While major cities like Beijing and Shanghai boast skyscrapers and high-tech amenities, rural areas and smaller towns may have limited access to certain products and services. Taking this into consideration, we’ll cover a range of items that will provide you with the comforts of home while also catering to the unique demands of living in China.


Before diving into the specific categories, it’s worth mentioning that efficient packing is crucial, as you’ll want to optimize space and minimize excess weight. Familiarize yourself with any airline restrictions or baggage allowances, as this will inform your packing strategy.


Now, let’s delve into the essential items you should consider packing for your journey to China. Whether you’re staying for a few months or planning a long-term relocation, this guide will help you ensure that you have everything you need for a smooth and enjoyable experience in this fascinating country.


Essential Documents

Before embarking on your journey to China, it’s crucial to gather and organize all the necessary documents. This will ensure a seamless process when it comes to immigration, housing, and other official procedures. Here are the essential documents you should pack:

  • Passport: Make sure your passport has at least six months of validity remaining. Also, keep copies of your passport just in case.
  • Visa: Obtain the appropriate visa for your purpose of travel, whether it’s a tourist visa, work visa, or student visa. Consult the Chinese embassy or consulate in your home country for detailed information.
  • Residence Registration: Upon arrival in China, you’ll need to register your place of residence with the local police within 24 hours. It’s recommended to carry a copy of your lease agreement or hotel booking confirmation.
  • Employment Contracts: If you’re moving to China for work, bring copies of your employment contracts or any other relevant job-related documents.
  • Health Records: It’s wise to have your medical records and vaccination certificates readily available, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.
  • Driver’s License: If you plan to drive in China, obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) and carry your driver’s license from your home country.
  • Bank and Credit Cards: Bring your bank cards and credit cards, ensuring they will work internationally. Notify your bank and credit card provider about your travel plans to avoid any issues with card usage.

It’s important to keep these documents in a safe and easily accessible place throughout your travels. Consider creating digital copies and storing them securely on your devices or in cloud storage for added convenience and security.


By ensuring you have all the necessary documents before your trip, you’ll be well-prepared to navigate the bureaucratic procedures in China and enjoy your time as an expat in this captivating country.


Clothing and Accessories

When packing your clothing and accessories for China, it’s important to consider the diverse climate and cultural norms across the country. Here are some essential items to include:

  • Seasonal Clothing: Pack a mix of lightweight and breathable clothes for the hot and humid summers, as well as warm and layerable options for the cold winters. Remember to bring a variety of clothing suitable for different weather conditions.
  • Comfortable Shoes: China is known for its extensive walking and exploration opportunities, so it’s essential to pack comfortable walking shoes or sneakers. Consider packing a pair of formal shoes for business or formal occasions as well.
  • Modest Attire: While major cities are more accepting of diverse fashion choices, it’s still important to respect local customs, especially in more conservative areas. Pack a few modest clothing options for visits to temples, mosques, or other religious sites.
  • Rain Gear: China experiences varying levels of precipitation throughout the year. Be prepared with a lightweight, compact umbrella or a waterproof jacket to stay dry during unexpected showers.
  • Accessories: Don’t forget to pack essential accessories like sunglasses, hats, and scarves to protect yourself from the sun and to accessorize your outfits. These items can also add a touch of style to your overall look.
  • Swimwear: If you plan to visit coastal areas or take advantage of the numerous swimming opportunities in China, pack your favorite swimwear.

Additionally, keep in mind that China has a booming fashion scene, and there are plenty of shopping options available. You may want to leave some space in your luggage to indulge in the local fashion trends or purchase traditional Chinese clothing options like qipao or hanfu.


Remember that personal style and preferences may vary, so pack clothing and accessories that align with your own comfort and fashion choices. By being mindful of the weather conditions and cultural norms, you’ll be well-prepared to dress appropriately and stylishly while enjoying your time in China.


Electronics and Adapters

Technology plays a significant role in our everyday lives, and having the right electronics and adapters will ensure you stay connected and powered up during your time in China. Here are some essential items to pack:

  • Laptop or Tablet: Having a portable device like a laptop or tablet is essential for work, entertainment, and staying connected with friends and family back home. Make sure to bring the necessary chargers and adapters.
  • Smartphone: Your smartphone is likely your lifeline, so don’t forget to bring it along with its charger and any necessary accessories. You may also want to consider unlocking your phone before your trip to use local SIM cards for cost-effective local communication.
  • Power Adapters: China uses Type A, Type C, and Type I electrical outlets. Make sure to check the type of outlets in your accommodation and bring the appropriate power adapters to charge your electronics without any issues.
  • Portable Power Bank: A portable power bank can be a lifesaver when on the go, especially for long days of sightseeing or when you don’t have access to power outlets. Look for one with a high capacity to keep your devices charged throughout the day.
  • E-book Reader: If you’re an avid reader, consider bringing an e-book reader like a Kindle or Nook to have access to a wide range of books without the added weight of physical copies.
  • Camera: Capture your experiences in China with a good quality camera. Whether it’s a dedicated camera or your smartphone, make sure you have enough storage space and batteries to document your adventures.
  • Headphones: Noise-canceling headphones or earphones will come in handy, especially during travel and in noisy environments.

It’s worth noting that electronics can be quite expensive in China, so it’s advisable to bring any necessary devices with you. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the voltage requirements of your electronics to ensure they are compatible with the power supply in China. If not, you may need a voltage converter or transformer.


By packing these essential electronics and adapters, you’ll be well-equipped to navigate the digital landscape and stay connected with ease during your time in China.


Toiletries and Medications

When it comes to toiletries and medications, it’s important to pack the essentials to maintain your personal hygiene and take care of your health while in China. Here’s a list of items you should consider packing:

  • Prescription Medications: If you take any prescription medications, ensure that you have an ample supply to last your entire stay in China. Carry them in their original packaging, along with any necessary prescriptions or documentation.
  • Over-the-Counter Medications: It’s a good idea to pack a small first aid kit with basic over-the-counter medications like pain relievers, antacids, cold and flu remedies, and any other medications you commonly use.
  • Personal Care Items: Bring your preferred brand and type of toiletries, including shampoo, conditioner, soap or body wash, toothpaste, and a toothbrush. Other essential items may include a razor, deodorant, and feminine hygiene products.
  • Sunscreen and Insect Repellent: China experiences hot summers and mosquitoes are prevalent in certain regions. Make sure to pack sunscreen with a high SPF rating and insect repellent to protect your skin from sunburn and insect bites.
  • Contacts and Contact Solution: If you wear contact lenses, don’t forget to bring an ample supply of lenses and contact solution, as well as spare pairs of glasses. These items may be more expensive or not readily available in China.
  • Travel-sized Items: To save space and comply with airline regulations, consider purchasing travel-sized toiletries or transferring your favorite products into reusable containers.

While China has its own wide range of toiletries and medications available in local stores and pharmacies, it’s always comforting to have your preferred brands or specific items on hand. Keep in mind that certain medications may have different names or may not be readily available, so it’s better to come prepared.


Lastly, if you have any specific dietary or medical needs, such as allergies or chronic conditions, it’s advisable to carry any specialized medications or medical alert bracelets to ensure your safety and well-being while in China.


By packing these essential toiletries and medications, you’ll be able to stay clean, comfortable, and healthy throughout your stay in China.


Kitchen and Cooking Essentials

If you’re planning to cook your own meals or simply want the convenience of having certain kitchen essentials on hand, consider packing the following items:

  • Cookware: Pack a small set of versatile cookware, including a frying pan, saucepan, and a pot. Opt for lightweight and durable options.
  • Utensils: Bring a set of basic utensils such as a knife, fork, spoon, and chopsticks. These versatile utensils will come in handy for various types of cuisine.
  • Plates and Bowls: Depending on your needs, pack a few plates and bowls. Consider lightweight and unbreakable options if you anticipate frequent moving or traveling.
  • Glassware and Mugs: If you enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee, or prefer drinking from glassware, pack a couple of mugs or glasses to make you feel at home.
  • Cutting Board: A small cutting board will be useful for meal preparation. Look for a compact and easy-to-clean option.
  • Food Storage Containers: Bringing a few airtight food storage containers will allow you to store leftovers or meal prepped food conveniently.
  • Utensil Organizer: Consider bringing an utensil organizer or roll-up pouch to keep your utensils organized and easily accessible.
  • Spices and Condiments: If you have particular culinary preferences or enjoy cooking with specific spices or condiments, consider packing small quantities of your favorites to add flavor to your meals.

Before packing these kitchen and cooking essentials, it’s essential to research and consider your living arrangements in China. If you’re staying in a furnished apartment or a dormitory, some of these items may already be provided. However, if you’re planning on staying in a bare apartment or want to have more control over your meals, these essentials can make your cooking experience more enjoyable.


Keep in mind that grocery stores in China offer a wide variety of local and international products, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to ingredients and pantry staples. This can make your cooking experience in China even more exciting as you explore new flavors and culinary traditions.


By packing these kitchen and cooking essentials, you’ll have the tools and equipment to prepare meals and enjoy home-cooked comfort while immersing yourself in Chinese cuisine and culture.


Bedding and Linens

Creating a comfortable and cozy living space in China starts with having the right bedding and linens. Whether you’re staying in a furnished apartment or setting up your own, here are some essential items to consider packing:

  • Pillows and Pillowcases: Bring one or two pillows that provide the desired level of comfort and support. Pack pillowcases to keep them clean and hygienic.
  • Bedsheets: Pack a couple of sets of bedsheets to keep your sleeping space fresh and clean. Opt for lightweight and breathable materials.
  • Blankets and Comforters: Depending on the season and your preference, pack a few blankets or a comforter to keep you warm during the colder months.
  • Towels: Pack a couple of bath towels and hand towels for personal hygiene purposes. Quick-drying and lightweight options are ideal for travel and expat living.
  • Mattress Topper: If you prefer a softer or more comfortable bed, consider bringing a mattress topper or a foam pad to enhance your sleep quality.
  • Curtains or Blinds: If your accommodation doesn’t already have window coverings, consider bringing some curtains or blinds to ensure privacy and control the amount of light entering your space.
  • Laundry Bag: A laundry bag or hamper will help keep your dirty laundry separate from your clean clothes and maintain organization.
  • Rugs or Mats: Add a touch of warmth and comfort to your living space by packing small rugs or mats for the floors.

Keep in mind that some furnished apartments or accommodations may provide basic bedding and linens. However, bringing your own ensures your personal comfort and allows you to create a familiar atmosphere in your new living space.


Additionally, consider the available storage space and weight restrictions when packing bedding and linens. Vacuum-sealed bags can help minimize the space they occupy in your luggage.


By packing these essential bedding and linens, you’ll be able to create a cozy and welcoming environment in your new home in China.


Household Supplies

When it comes to setting up your household in China, having some essential supplies on hand will make your daily routine more convenient. Here are some household items you should consider packing:

  • Cleaning Supplies: Bring a small supply of cleaning products such as multipurpose cleaner, dish soap, laundry detergent, and disinfecting wipes.
  • Bathroom Essentials: Pack items like toilet paper, hand soap, and any personal hygiene products that you prefer to use.
  • Kitchen Gadgets: Consider bringing a few basic kitchen gadgets such as a can opener, peeler, spatula, and tongs.
  • Trash Bags: Having a few rolls of trash bags on hand will make it easier to maintain cleanliness in your living space.
  • Storage Solutions: Consider packing some storage containers, vacuum-sealed bags, and boxes to help keep your belongings organized.
  • Light Bulbs: In case you need to replace any light bulbs in your accommodation, it’s helpful to have a few spare ones with you.
  • Extension Cords and Power Strips: Certain accommodations may have limited power outlets, so bringing an extension cord or power strip can come in handy.
  • Adhesive Hooks and Tape: These items are useful for hanging pictures, posters, or lightweight decorations without damaging the walls.

While many of these household supplies are available in China, you may have specific preferences for certain brands or products. It’s also a good idea to have these essentials on hand when you first arrive, as you may need time to familiarize yourself with the local stores and products.


When packing household supplies, consider the weight and space restrictions of your luggage. Prioritize the items that are not easily accessible or are of particular importance to you.


By packing these essential household supplies, you’ll be able to efficiently and comfortably manage your daily life in your new home in China.


Books and Entertainment

Books and entertainment items are great companions, especially during downtime or when you need a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life in China. Here are some items to consider packing for your leisure and entertainment:

  • Books: Bring along your favorite books or e-readers to enjoy reading in your free time. If you’re learning Chinese, consider bringing language learning materials or bilingual books to further your studies. Alternatively, you can explore local bookstores for English-language books or join a library or book club.
  • Music and Podcasts: Load up your devices with your favorite music, podcasts, or audiobooks to entertain yourself during long commutes or leisurely walks.
  • Movies and TV Shows: If you enjoy watching movies or TV series, consider downloading them onto your devices or bringing a portable hard drive with your favorite entertainment options.
  • Board Games and Cards: Packing a few compact board games or a deck of cards can provide entertainment during social gatherings or quiet nights at home.
  • Art Supplies: If you’re inclined towards artistic pursuits, bring along your preferred art supplies such as sketchbooks, paints, and brushes to express your creativity.
  • Sports Equipment: If you have a favorite sports activity, bring along any necessary equipment such as a tennis racket, yoga mat, or hiking gear to continue your fitness routine or enjoy outdoor activities.
  • Streaming Devices: Consider bringing a streaming device like a Chromecast or Fire TV Stick to easily access streaming platforms and watch your favorite shows on the big screen.

China offers a vibrant cultural scene, and exploring local entertainment options can be an exciting way to immerse yourself in the country’s traditions and innovations. Attend local theater performances, concerts, or art exhibitions to experience the rich cultural tapestry of China.


While packing entertainment items, ensure they comply with any space or weight restrictions for your luggage. Consider the adaptability of your entertainment options to different devices or platforms, especially if you plan on purchasing local electronics.


By packing books and entertainment items that cater to your interests, you’ll have a source of relaxation, inspiration, and enjoyment during your time in China.


Miscellaneous Items

Aside from the essential categories mentioned earlier, there are a few miscellaneous items that can enhance your experience as an expat in China. These items may vary based on personal preferences, hobbies, and specific needs. Here are some miscellaneous items to consider packing:

  • Travel Adapter: While we’ve already mentioned power adapters, having a universal travel adapter can be incredibly handy, especially if you plan to travel within or outside of China.
  • Travel Insurance: It’s always recommended to have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost belongings. Ensure your insurance is valid for the duration of your stay in China.
  • Language Guidebooks or Apps: Even if you’re planning to learn Mandarin during your stay, having language guidebooks or language learning apps can be useful for quick reference or communication in the early stages.
  • Photocopies of Important Documents: It’s wise to have photocopies of your passport, visa, and other essential documents stored separately from the originals. This can be helpful in case of lost or stolen items.
  • Travel Locks: Ensure the security of your belongings by packing a few travel locks, which can be used on suitcases, backpacks, or lockers.
  • Medicine Kit: A basic medicine kit with band-aids, painkillers, antiseptic ointment, and other first aid supplies is always handy to have, especially when traveling or exploring new places.
  • Reusable Water Bottle: Staying hydrated is essential, especially in China’s hot climate. Bring a reusable water bottle that you can refill to reduce plastic waste and ensure you always have water on hand.
  • Comfort Items from Home: Consider bringing a few small items that provide comfort and remind you of home, such as photos, sentimental objects, or a favorite blanket.

While these miscellaneous items may seem small or easily replaceable, having them with you can bring a sense of familiarity and convenience during your time in China. It’s always better to be prepared and have these items readily available when needed.


Remember to consider the weight and space restrictions of your luggage when packing these miscellaneous items, and prioritize based on your personal needs and preferences.


By packing these miscellaneous items, you’ll be better equipped to handle unexpected situations, make your daily life more comfortable, and maintain a sense of home throughout your time in China.