Essential Packing Items for Your Trip to China

Packing with messy clothes for a vacation
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China is a shopper's paradise. But believe it or not, there are things you won't be able to find. All right, to be honest, you can probably find it, but our point is, the items on this list are difficult to find. You may have to find the right import-only grocery store or make your way to a pharmacy in a Chinese hospital to find these items.

And who wants to spend valuable sightseeing and culture-seeking time trying to locate a certain kind of vitamin that you forgot to bring?

Reasons Why You Should Bring Your Essentials

This list of items are things on your packing list that you'll want to make sure you bring along with you. First off, some of these items are very limited in China. You may only be able to find them in shops that cater to big expat communities such as those in Beijing or Shanghai. Or, the brands you can find in China will be limited, and you may find that you can locate a German version of your item, but you can't read the ingredients.

Especially if you're planning to spend most of your time off the beaten track, you'll want to make sure you have these items along with you when you come. Where you're going, you might be lucky even to locate a supermarket with toothpaste but forget the dental floss!

Don't Leave Home Without These Essentials

  • Deodorant With Antiperspirants: This is difficult to find in China. Deodorant can sometimes be found in supermarkets with a personal items section or drug-store chains like Watson's, but finding deodorant with antiperspirant is next to impossible.
  • Shampoo and Conditioner: Of course, you can find shampoo and conditioner. But if you're finicky about certain brands, we'd suggest bringing it along with you. There are some familiar brands available, such as L'oreal and Vidal Sassoon, but the formula is different (it is, of course, made for the local market).
  • Other Hair Supplies: Again, some products are available, but formulas vary from country to country, so you should bring your preferred mousse, gel, hairspray, etc. with you.
  • Beauty Products and Moisturizers: Large department stores in cities will have makeup counters with all the same brands that you're (probably) familiar with at home. However, these products are all sold with a significant import tax attached. While you might be able to find your brand, you will end up paying a lot more for it than you do at home.
  • Sunscreen: While some sunscreen brands have become more widely available, the ones most widely on sale in China cater to the Chinese market and ladies' desire for whitening products. The SPF factor will be 50 and above and often have a whitener. That said, Nivea brand sunscreen is available in some convenience stores. In a pinch, you can find it.
  • Insect Repellent: The brand OFF has become more widely available in some shops in Shanghai, but we haven't found any local brand that's very effective. If you are traveling with small children and are worried about the ingredients of the insect repellent, then bring it from home.
  • Tampons: Feminine hygiene products are widely available in a dizzying array of variations, but tampons are only available at expat supermarkets in limited supply.
  • Medications: Many similar medications are available in China, but you don't want to have to spend time trying to figure out a local pharmacy when you want some aspirin. Bring allergy, headache, nausea/diarrhea, birth control and other medications with you. See also this handy First Aid packing list for travel to China. Also be sure to bring your vitamins.
  • Shoes: If you have the time or the need, you can have just about any piece of clothing tailor-made for you, but shoes, if your feet are large, will be hard to find. Another reason to be sure to bring backup shoes is that if you're traveling and your shoes get wet, you might not have time to dry them before moving on to the next location.
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