ULTIMATE FEMALE PACKING LIST FOR A YEAR IN CHINA

I packed for China frantically the night before we left. Start by not doing that! I lived in Nanjing, China for 5 months, and Beijing for 4 months, so I got to test my packing choices out over a variety of seasons and climates. The packing list below includes the things that I used regularly, and the things I regretted not bringing. At the end I included some extra tips, like this one: A lot of international airlines have weight limits for carry-on luggage, not just checked bags. Did you know that? I didn’t. It was bad.

Most of the products linked in this blog post were tested and used by me regularly while living in China, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend all of them to my friends and family. I will never post links on this website to a product that I wouldn’t recommend to my best friend.

FEMALE PACKING LIST FOR A YEAR IN CHINA

DON’T FORGET TO BUY A VPN PLAN BEFORE YOU GO!!

BAGS

  • Backpack
    • A sturdy backpack is essential! Great for a long day out of the house, as an alternative to a briefcase, or a weekend trip if you can pack light. This one by North Face will last you through China and beyond.
  • Cross-body purse
    • This crossbody has a ton of really cool anti-theft features that keep your most important stuff safe while traveling.
  • Camera case (if you’re bringing a DSLR)
  • Shopping tote bag
  • Checked and carry-on luggage
    • We got this 2-piece set of hard luggage with 360 degree spinning wheels. Best. Decision. Ever. Its been 2 years since we bought this luggage and I swear they still look new even after taking MANY beatings by airline luggage crew.

ELECTRONICS

  • Laptop
    • I’m no laptop expert, but I’ve done a lot of research lately, and I think if you want to go light, this is a fantastic option.
    • If you want to start up a YouTube channel like I did while in China, get something that can handle video editing (I recommend selecting the option with the GTX 1060 graphics card and 16GB RAM).
  • Unlocked smartphone
    • When you come to China, you can replace your SIM card with a Chinese one instead of buying a new device if you unlock your device first. I did this by just calling my cell service provider (and paying off my phone). If you can’t unlock your current device, you could look for one on Amazon, or have a look at Huawei phones while in China – they’re the best bang for your buck. Just be aware the US government isn’t a fan of them.
  • Camera
  • SD card with lots of room
    • I made the mistake of bringing a 4 GB SD card and then spent hours searching dozens of stores in Nanjing before I found one. Here’s a better deal on the exact one I bought.
  • Portable USB charger
  • Kindle
    • I was gifted a used Kindle and I love having it for travel! Here’s the latest one, which is still affordable.
  • Universal travel adapter
    • Below is an image of a typical Chinese outlet. You can fit a regular American plug into it, but it doesn’t take a 3-prong plug. After using an inexpensive adapter for 5 months in Ireland and 9 months in China, I used it here in America and it started melting IN THE SOCKET… I feel much safer recommending this nicer one. Only you can prevent electrical fires.

Earbuds

TOILETRIES

  • Feminine products
    • Chinese women almost solely use pads, so you’ll be lucky to find tampons at all in China, let alone get a decent price on them. I boughtthis box of 96 on Amazon and dumped them out to fill in the spaces of my checked bag. I’m sure TSA loved it.
    • Update: It took me a year and a half to finally use them all.
  • Toothbrush
  • Travel-size toothpaste
    • They’ve got familiar brands here, so just bring the travel-size and buy the full-size on arrival.
  • Travel-size shampoo and conditioner
    • Just bring 1 set and buy the full-size ones on arrival. There’s tons of options, and Pantene is easy to find.
    • Alternatively, you could check out the Lush shampoo bars – I hear they last a LONG time.
  • Travel-size shower gel
    • There are tons of options in China for body wash.
  • Face wash
    • This face wash smells amazing and really works. If you aren’t crazy about yours or you’re on the hunt for a vegan or sulfate-free option, you need to check it out. Plus, they don’t test on animals!
  • Hair styling products
    • Don’t assume that the brand you use at home will be available here, especially if you have curly, thick, or light-colored hair.
    • I have thick, coarse, curly hair and have been using this serumthis styling spray, and this finishing creme for years. 2018 update: I replaced my serum with argan oil.
  • Nivea Creme
    • I’m talking about the thick lotion that comes in the little blue tin (image here) because it’s travel-friendly, it’s only $1 at major drugstores, and if you have to pack your regular moisturizer in your checked luggage, it’ll work as a facial lotion in a pinch.
    • China has tons of lotion options, and Cetaphil is becoming very common there.
  • Chapstick
    • I would recommend throwing 1 in each of your bags. My lips got really dry on the plane and I had packed all my chapsticks in my checked luggage.
  • 2 packs of pocket tissues
    • You’ll be regularly using them as toilet paper in China, so bring a few packs and then buy more on arrival.
  • Travel-size hand sanitizer
    • The full-size hand sanitizers are easier to find in China than travel-size, so you could always refill this container.
  • Eye cream
    • I suffer from sensitive skin and eczema, and I’ve been successfully using this eye cream for years now!
  • Moisturizer
    • This moisturizer with SPF is the same brand as my eye cream so it’s equally awesome for sensitive skin and it’s affordable, too!
    • A lot of skin products in China contain whiteners, which is why I opted to bring my own face creams.
  • Bug spray
    • Bug spray with deet is hard to find here, and let’s be real – it’s the only chemical that works for people like me who the bugs seem to be obsessed with.
    • Update: Eucalyptus oil has been working well as bug repellent for me – and it takes up much less room – hooray!
  • Deodorant
    • Bring all the deodorant you’ll need for your time abroad, because they don’t have very many options in China.
  • Floss picks
    • Just a few should be fine, these are becoming more common in China.
  • Hair ties
    • If you’re cool with black hair ties, you can find tons in China.
  • Comb
    • Also easy to find in China, unless there’s something special you use. With hair stuff, just remember you’ll mostly just be finding products in China that are meant for Chinese hair.
  • Hair hot tools
    • You’ll have no problem finding hair dryers and straighteners, but a little more trouble finding curling irons or diffuser attachments for hair dryers.
  • Makeup wipes
  • Nail clippers
    • I always seem to break nails during travel and find it really handy to bring clippers in my carry on.
  • Prescriptions
  • 2-sided razor with replacement heads
  • Tea tree oil
    • The most natural, practical acne treatment for a girl on the go! I use it as a spot treatment, and you only need a tiny bit, which means you only have to bring a tiny container.
  • Sunscreen
    • BYOS, because the ones in China all have whiteners! 
  • Towel
  • Shaving gel

CLOTHES & ACCESSORIES

  • Scarf
    • This one has a pocket for your passport!
  • Gloves
  • Warm beanie
    • A hat is the most compact travel accessory for keeping warm! I love the Neff beanies because they’re so soft.
  • Hat for hot weather
    • I didn’t bring my wide-brim fedora and I regret it. I’ve got huge hair and a huge head, and I can’t find one that fits. If you’re not sure how to pack a hat without ruining it, click here.
    • Update: I found one at H&M from their Coachella collection and I love it!
    • Update: I left it in a cab in Beijing and it’s gone forever.
  • 2 pairs of leggings
    • These Hanes leggings are such good value! They’ve lasted just as long as my $50 American Apparel winter leggings and my $40 Victoria Secret leggings.
  • Workout capri leggings
    • My longest-lasting, most comfortable workout leggings to date were these Nikes.
  • 2 pairs of shorts
  • 3 pairs of pants
    • Blue denim – these Lucky Brand ones are the best.
    • Black denim – Levi’s are always classic, and last forever.
    • Loose cotton pants – you’ll be thankful to have these when you’re tired of skinny jeans. H&M has good ones… so does Thailand 
  • 2 camis
  • 2 nude bras
  • 2 sports bras
  • Sunglasses
    • I’ve had my current pair for more than a year, which is an all-time record for me! I guess that’s what happens when you invest in a pair you actually love. If women’s sunglasses tend to be too small on you, try the 51mm Ray Bans. The frames are a little bigger, so they’re perfect for big head, big hair people.
  • Bathing suit
    • China is a bit more conservative, so you may feel more comfortable in a one-piece.
  • 12 pairs of underwear
  • 12 pairs of comfy socks
    • If you’re all about comfy feet, try these socks – they’re pretty much the only ones I wear. I would also recommend bringing a pair of socks made to wear with flats. If you have a higher-rise flat, these socks ACTUALLY stay on your foot! I once put them to the ultimate test – wearing them with boots – and they rocked it.
  • Slipper socks
    • Bring them on the plane!
  • Long, fun necklace
  • Short, simple necklace

KITCHEN

  • Tea strainer
  • Chopsticks
    • My husband and I each had a pair of these chopsticks and used them at least twice a day. They fold up so you can easily carry them in your purse and protect the part your mouth goes on. Especially handy for people who are freaked out by the sight of stained wooden chopsticks in a dirty mug at Chinese restaurants (NOT uncommon).
  • Water bottle
    • The best water bottle ever is right here. It’s vacuum insulated, so if you put ice in it and open it 12 hours later, you’ll still have ice-cold water.
  • Granola bars
    • They’ll have food on your flight, but it’s not the best, so you’ll be thankful to have these in your carry-on. Also, you will not find KIND bars in China, so they’ll taste even better if you hide them in your cabinet and discover them a month later 

MAKEUP

  • Mascara
  • Brow pencil
  • Lip stain
    • The NARS velvet matte lip pencil is the best lip product for lazy girls (AKA me). I can successfully apply it without a mirror! If you’re not sure which color to get, Dolce Vita looks good on everyone.
  • Compact mirror
  • Loose setting powder
    • Laura Mercier doesn’t make you look like a ghost in photos, which is exactly what I look for in a powder.
  • Cream blush
  • Eyelash curler
    • You can definitely get a cheaper one than the one I linked right here, but personally I couldn’t resist the gold!
  • Brush set
    • For less than $15 you can create a full set of eco-friendly brushes with these two links: here and here.
  • Foundation
    • BYOF, because a lot of the ones in China are crazy pale and contain skin whiteners.
  • Beauty blender
  • Eyeliner
    • I tried a LOT of liquid eyeliner pens before this became my favorite.
  • Highlighter
  • Tweezers
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Bronzer

PHARMACY

  • Ibuprofen
  • Diarrheal antibiotics
    • Ask your doctor for these. Your bowel movements will not be normal for a while, especially if you dive into the spicy street food like we did. My best advice is to fill up on rice for a little while.
  • Gas-X
    • When the antibiotics are over and you’re still in pain, you’ll appreciate these.
  • Band-aids
  • Allergy pills
    • My husband experienced seasonal allergies for the first time in Nanjing because there so many flowering trees! For the super allergy-prone, add nasal spray and an inhaler to the list.
  • Cough drops
  • Lactaid
    • If you’re lactose intolerant, you’ve probably read online that 90% of Chinese people are lactose intolerant, which will make you think “there aren’t any Chinese dishes with dairy.” Stay in China long enough and you’ll be gifted a buttery cake, or you’ll want to try those delicious pastries at your next meeting, or you’ll go out for pizza with friends and wish you had a pill to help you out.
    • Update: I’m pretty convinced that thing about Chinese people being lactose intolerant is a myth. Stock up.
  • Melatonin
    • I forgot to bring some and I still regret it. Whether it’s the buckwheat-filled pillow, the hard mattress, the megaphones blaring outside, or the new environment that causes you to lack sleep, you’ll be thankful to take a pill that knocks you out.
    • Update: I found melatonin at Carrefour in a locked cabinet. The bottle went from the hands of one employee to another with some kind of prescription form passed over, and then I didn’t get it until I paid for it. 
  • Ear plugs
    • It’s loud in China. Formal noise complaints aren’t a thing here. If you plan to sleep deeply any time between 9am and 8pm, you might want to wear them to bed.
  • Abreva
    • If you’re prone to cold sores.
  • Cold Medicine
    • China has this cold medicine called “black and white”, which I tried in this video, but if you’re afraid of Chinese pharmaceuticals, BYO!
  • Benedryl
    • An instant allergy fix and a sleep aid when the melatonin runs out.
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MISCELLANEOUS

  • China travel book
  • PocketMonkey
  • Passport and required documents
    • The “required documents” part really depends on the type of Visa you have, but don’t forget to bring the paperwork that you had to show to initially get the Visa, because you’ll need it at Immigration.
  • Extra passport photos
    • You’ll need 1 inch square photos to obtain your temporary residence permit, your permanent residence permit, and other things I’m forgetting. In other words, you’re going to go through a lot of passport photos.
  • Sturdy folder
    • For all your documents.
  • Sharpie, pens, pencils
    • Just 1 sharpie, 1 pencil, and 3 pens should do you for a while. Stationary stores in China are way more fun, so I’m hoping you’ll have an excuse to check one out.
  • Scissors
    • Update: You could definitely just buy a pair super cheap on arrival.
  • Gifts
    • China is a gift-giving society, so it’s good to bring a few small things from your hometown to give as gifts to people you want to say thanks to. I brought 3 little packets of smoked salmon and 3 tiny jars of local marionberry jam.
    • Update: In retrospect, I think American beauty products or small clothing items are more desired. 
  • 2 coin pouches
  • Diary-sized notebook
    • These are so pretty, I couldn’t resist.
  • Travel sewing kit
  • 3 quart-sized ziploc bags
  • Index cards
    • I found them incredibly difficult to find in China, and at some point you’ll want to make flash cards for your new vocab.

EXTRA TIPS

  • Check out my Moving To China Checklist to be sure you’ve got all your ducks in order!
  • If you’re a coffee drinker, get yourself ready for instant Nescafe. Hitting up a coffee shop every morning is another option, but not the most budget-friendly.
  • Don’t try to look cute on the plane – there’s no point. Just be comfy! Also, wear socks. And clip your toenails.
  • I didn’t realize until we were at the airport that the baggage weight limits on Asiana Airlines (and other airlines from what I hear) applies to carry-on luggage too, not just the checked bags. That had us re-packing things at the check-in counter to even out the weight between our two bags. Not fun. One of these will ensure you don’t have to go through what I did.
  • You can add a neck pillow to this list if you like, but more likely than not you’ll get a blanket and a pillow from your airline on the flight. I found my space to be so cramped with all the stuff I had and all the stuff they gave me, I almost didn’t want my neck pillow.
  • Cash is king in China, so your card-filled wallet may not be useful to you anymore. I would suggest going with a simple coin pouch.
  • When you eventually move back home, it’s going to be cheaper to check a second bag than mail a box of stuff if you’re planning to bring back a bunch of gifts and souvenirs. Let your parents know right now that they shouldn’t plan to mail you care packages. A small flat-rate box can be around $60!

THINGS I REGRET BRINGING

  • Bulky, oversized sweaters
  • Tons of toiletries
    • Just bring one of each thing (i.e. shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, toothpaste) and buy the full-size when you arrive. There’s no point in packing the extra weight.
  • Too many tops
    • I just went and counted all my tops, and I brought 22… which explains why I’ve been wearing less than half of them. You really don’t need that many, plus there’s so much good shopping here!
  • Umbrella
    • The waterproof jacket has sufficed. Rain seems to come so randomly and sidewalks are so crowded that I haven’t bothered with an umbrella.
    • Update: Summer came and I bought an umbrella. I couldn’t stand to wear my jacket in the humid heat!
  • Pocket dictionary
    • Go to the Google Play or Apple store app on your phone right now and download Pleco. It’s awesome. You’ll also want to add the plug-in where you can draw the character and it recognizes what you’re trying to say. Now you don’t need a pocket dictionary!
  • 5 notebooks
    • I bought myself a set of 3 notebooks before coming here and was gifted 2 others, so I brought them all. Guess what happened? I bought 2 more notebooks in China because the school supplies here are so damn cute.
  • 6 hair styling sprays
    • I have a hair product I’m obsessed with called John Frieda Dream Curls and I grossly overestimated the number I would need. It’s been almost 2 months and I haven’t even gone through half a bottle. Do your best to estimate how much you actually use of each product.
  • Cards & games
    • There’s a laptop, a smartphone, and a kindle in front of me – why would I even bother with that deck of cards I brought?
  • Nail polish
  • Dressy tops
    • I just dressed things up with jewelry instead.
  • Western-style wallet
    • I explained this above, but to put it short: my American wallet is made for lots of cards, and I pretty much only use cash here.
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  • Fun cropped tees
  • Huge high-quality headphones
    • I brought these, but I really only use my earbuds because they’re way more convenient.
  • Stylish tote
    • I have plenty of other bag options.
  • Fancy dress
    • If there is no fancy occasion that you know about in advance, there probably won’t be a fancy occasion to dress up for.
    • Update: I actually did wear that fancy dress one time, but I could have gone more casual. If you get a black cotton dress, you can make that thing look pretty fancy in a pinch!
  • Too many pairs of underwear
    • I think I brought 20…
  • Tights
    • Leggings work just fine!
  • Strapless bra

Don’t forget to purchase a VPN plan before you head out for China! I used this one for a full year, and I can confirm its the best! If you’re still scared of using VPN or confused about how it works, check out my Ultimate Guide To Using VPN.

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If this article helped you, be sure to leave a comment below and let me know where you’re going on your adventures abroad! For more helpful travel tips, check out my YouTube channel for a closer look at what it’s like to be a Westerner living in China 

Thanks so much for reading! Talk to you soon,

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