Chinese Packing Guide

What NOT to buy in China

Many Americans coming to China fret about what to pack for their trip.

Rest assured. You know how everything in the US has “Made in China” on the bottom? Well, that means everything is made here, and you can find just about anything you want here, so don’t worry.

That being said, there are many things that are CHEAPER, BETTER QUALITY, or EASIER TO FIND in the US.

1. Technology –
The newest iPhone costs about $1000 in China, compared to the $500-600 in the USA. The same goes with iPads, laptops, and any other kind of major electronic.
2. Brand-name anything –
If you can’t live without your Polo t-shirt, specific cosmetics or your Crocs (Do people still wear those?), buy them before coming to China. Anything that is a western brand and *real* is much more expensive here. HOWEVER, there are always knock-offs and fakes for much cheaper, but the quality is very low!
3. Outdoor gear-
Hiking, camping and athletic clothing are relatively new concepts in China, which means they are much more expensive.

Chinese knock-off brands bad quality China manufacturing
Chinese knock-off brands


1. Things you use daily-
Many things in China are very cheap, but the quality is also extremely low. For example, you can buy a pair of sunglasses for $2-3, but don’t expect them to last you all summer. Likewise, you can buy a cute backpack or wallet for $5-10, but the leather will start to peel off and you better be handy at reinforcing seams. Finally, you never know if products are real or fake in China.
Basically, if you want to ensure the quality of something you use everyday, buy it in the US and not in China.
2. Sunscreen and cosmetic products-
The Chinese sunscreen does NOT work on white people skin. It just doesn’t. I got the worse sunburn of my life after applying Chinese sunscreen religiously ever three hours. Other cosmetic products in China are full of even more chemicals and bleaching creams than American cosmetics, so it’s safer to buy at home.
3. Medicine and supplies-
China does not have as stringent medicine regulations as the US. Painkillers, diarrhea tablets, vitamins and allergy medicine are not only HARDER to find here, but you never know what they’re made out of. Of course, you could always dive in to an authentic Chinese experience and visit a Chinese medicine shop, but in general the western stuff works faster and better!

Amazon delivery China bicycle transportation
Amazon Delivery in China

1. American foods-
All major Chinese cities will have many western food markets (in Beijing, there are many in Sanlitun 三里屯 and Wudaokou 五道口), but you’ll need to pay a pretty penny for the foods because they are imported. For example, a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese that costs less than $1 in the US might be up to $7 here. Also, it’s hard to find specifically western foods that Chinese people don’t typically eat, such as peanut butter, salsa, tomato sauce, dairy products, baking supplies, etc.
2. Clothing that fits-
Let’s just say it like it is: Americans in general are much larger than Chinese people. Even “skinny” people in the US tend to be taller and have bigger hips, shoulders, feet and chests than Chinese people. This makes it very hard to find clothing that fits well. I’ve been able to buy shirts and dresses (more like mini dresses) no problem, but I had to buy a pair of men’s tennis shoes because they don’t have my shoe size in women’s shoes. (I wear a US size 9 or EU size 42, but the largest size they have for women is US 8 or EU 40).
3. Tampons and deodorant-
While ubiquitous in any convenience store in the US, tampons are as elusive as unicorns in China. In fact, many Chinese girls have never even heard of tampons and would never dare use them. Don’t worry about packing pantyliners or pads, but definitely stock up on tampons and deodorant.

Female Hygiene in China pads tampons packing list study abroad
Female Hygiene in China

Tomorrow, I will post a more helpful, practical, short-term packing list.

In the end, you’ll still survive. Just GO and DO!


  1. Great list! My wife and I lived in China for two months last fall, and have since returned here to establish our new home. We brought back herbal teas, as we could not find those in any 超市 (supermarket). That being said, you learn to make do with less and it all works it. 🙂

    1. I haven’t really thought about herbal teas, but that makes sense! I really like your blog. I think we’ve had a lot of similar experiences in China: the good and the bad! Haha

      1. Yeah, my wife and I are both suckers for herbal tea. We enjoy Chinese tea, but there’s just something special about herbal teas. 🙂

        Looking forward to reading more about your experiences in 中国!

  2. […] #2 Don’t buy a smartphone in China. Phones and technology was on my list of what NOT to buy in China because they are more expensive and may not be compatible with cellphone carriers back […]

  3. I think this is why a lot of Chinese people come to Hong Kong to buy luxury brands and electronic goods. They are really cheap here, at least cheaper than I’m used to in the UK.
    (also slight judgement on anyone that is crossing the globe only to want to eat macaroni that comes out of a box – maybe its an american thing but in Europe pasta dishes are made fresh :P)

    1. Haha. I never said all I wanted to eat was boxed Mac and cheese, just using it as a price comparison. :p Also, I have no shame. It’s delicious!

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