Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated January 15, 2020
By Mike Cairnduff

Things you should not bring to China

Travelers are often told what they should bring with them when they go to China. But what about the things that are best left behind?

Here are seven things you should think twice about when packing your bags for China.

1. Your big, expensive camera

These days even travelers on a shoestring budget seem to carry around the latest Canon digital SLR camera.

Unless you’re trying to get your photos published in National Geographic, leave it at home.

Good digital SLR cameras are often big and bulky. You’ll need to factor this in to your travels and allow space for it in your luggage.

Plus, you don’t want to take the risk of leaving it behind at some far-flung tourist attraction.

A digital SLR camera is one of the things you should not bring to China.

Don’t bring your digital SLR camera to China unless you absolutely have to.

Although China is a really safe country, there’s still a risk of it being pinched while you’re not looking (you can read up on a number of safety precautions for China here).

The easy option? Use the camera in your smartphone.

Or, if you're like me and think phones take poor quality photos, pack a small, lightweight digital camera.

2. An inflexible attitude

China is still regarded as a developing country.

If you’re from a country like the US, UK or Australia, there are going to big differences with what you’re used to.

You'll see Chinese people spit, you may witness queue-jumping, and you'll probably experience the famous Chinese squat toilet.

It's all part of the China experience!

Squat toilet in China - don't bring an inflexible attitude

A typical toilet in China (except this one's really clean!).

Things you may take for granted, like booking a tour or a train ticket, can be challenging in China. This is particularly the case if you’re not part of a tour group and can’t speak Chinese.

Last-minute plans and changes are part of everyday Chinese life. For example, if you’re teaching in China you may be given your ‘final’ timetable for the semester to plan around, only then to be given a totally new timetable without explanation.

If you’re really set in your ways, and not open to change or a challenge, then China may not be for you.

On the other hand, if you’re flexible and have a positive attitude, you’ll love – or at least put up with – China.

The quicker you can accept ‘China’s way of doing things’, the sooner you’ll adapt to this fascinating country.

3. A money belt

Seriously, do these things still exist?

If you look in any store that sells travel accessories, apparently they do.

It’s a hassle getting money out of one without looking like you’re undressing in public. It can also irritate your skin as it rubs against you while you walk.

Many years ago I used a money belt in China.

While navigating my way around a Chinese squat toilet I dropped the belt and all my money in the hole! True story, I'm afraid.

Do not bring a money belt to China

Travel accessories like money belts are more trouble than they're worth.

Keeping money in the same bag, wallet or purse you use in your own country is the way to go.

While it’s never a good idea to flash your money around, China is a safe country. Just follow normal safety precautions when you carry money.

4. A phone locked to a network

This tip is for those who are going to be in China long term, like teachers and expats (but I do have a quick tip for holidaymakers below too).

If you’re relying on using only your locked phone from home, you’ll be in trouble.

The calls and messages you make in China will be billed per your phone plan’s international roaming charges. And you can’t expect your new, local friends and colleagues to contact you on an international number!

A locked phone is one of the things you should not bring to China

Don’t use your locked phone in China if you're there long term.

The easy way around this is to buy a cheap phone in China, or bring an unlocked one from home that you can use. This could accompany your locked phone.

So you might have two phones – one for local use and the other for international use.

Top tip for holidaymakers

Going to China on a short vacation? Check ahead with your phone company for international rates.

You can also use free WiFi, available in countless places across the country. Just remember that many of your favorite websites and apps are blocked in China.

To overcome this problem you'll need to get a VPN before you arrive.

Here's my review of some of the VPNs that work in China.

Just remember to download the VPN app before you arrive in China or you'll be left high and dry!

5. Only a credit card

The Chinese use their phones to pay for absolutely everything, from street food to clothing and public transport.

The most common digital payment platforms in China – Alipay and WeChat Pay – require a Chinese bank account linked to them.

Recent reports have indicated that these payment platforms can accept foreign cards, but this is still a work in progress.

So, until then, you’ll only be able to use cash or card when making purchases in China.

Whatever you do, don’t just bring a credit card expecting it’ll be accepted everywhere. It won’t be.

Don't only bring a credit card to China - you will need cash too

Credit cards are accepted in some places in China, but not everywhere.

You’ll need cash for small purchases and for the places that don’t accept card.

Chinese taxi drivers are notorious for not accepting card.

I’ve personally found cash to be way more convenient than card in China.

6. Common toiletries

Ever heard someone say “China is a backwards country and you can’t buy any Western toiletries there”?

Don’t believe them – it’s a total myth.

China is modernizing extremely quickly and a wide range of toiletries are available.

While the corner store may not stock your favorite brand of shampoo, if you head to a large store like Walmart you can buy many of the big American brands.

Toiletries are some of the things you should not bring to China

A wide range of toiletries are available in China.

Deodorant, however, can be hard to find in China if you don't know where to look.

Luckily, Walmart and beauty chain Watsons stock a small range (I think this guide to deodorant in China is pretty cool).

There are over 3,800 Watsons stores in China so you're unlikely to get smelly!

7. More than 10 days’ worth of clothes

Whether you’re going to China on a short trip or to teach English for a year, clothes that last you 10 days should be sufficient.

Anything more than that will weigh you down and mean you get to bring home fewer souvenirs (I've listed my top 10 tacky Chinese souvenirs here.)

If you feel that you need to freshen up your wardrobe, go on a shopping spree.

Do not bring too many clothes to China

Pack lightly for China.

Clothes in China are cheap and there are clothing stores everywhere.

You just might find it hard to get the size you need if you have a larger frame.

My final tip

Ok, I know this blog is about what you should not bring to China.

But if I can leave you with just one more tip, it's this: make sure you download some helpful apps before you go to China.

For things like finding your way around, communicating with the locals and buying stuff, these apps will make your trip much more enjoyable.

Have a great time in China!

Have I missed anything? What wouldn't you bring to China?


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