Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated January 13, 2019
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, or you really really can’t part with your beloved optical instrument, leave it at home.

Digital SLR cameras are often big and bulky, meaning you’ll have to factor this in to your travels. Plus, you don’t want to take the risk of leaving it behind at some far-flung tourist attraction.

And, although China is a really safe country, there’s still a risk of it being pinched while you’re not looking.

The easy option? Pack a small, lightweight digital camera, or if the quality of the lens is good enough, use the camera in your smartphone.

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.

2. An inflexible attitude

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

Last-minute plans and changes are part of everyday Chinese life. For example, you may be given your ‘final’ timetable for the semester to plan around, only then to be given a totally new timetable.

Similarly, you may be invited out to dinner at the last minute to help entertain some important faculty heads. The dinner starts in less than an hour, but you’re about to play badminton with some of your students.

Structure and planning in China are carried out very differently to what you’re used to. The quicker you can accept this little quirk of Chinese society, the sooner you’ll adapt to this fascinating country.

3. A money belt

Seriously, do these things still exist? Well, 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 and while navigating my way around a Chinese squat toilet the whole thing dropped in the hole! True story, I'm afraid.

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. Simply exercise normal safety precautions when you carry money.

4. A phone locked to a network

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, unless you plan on buying a new phone there.

Don’t use your locked phone in China. Instead, buy a new phone when you arrive so you can contact people locally.

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.

5. Heavy textbooks

By all means, bring useful teaching materials from home, but don’t lug heavy textbooks all the way to China.

Firstly, your school will most likely have a prescribed textbook, which you may be expected to use. Why bring something you’ll never use?

Secondly, while it might be a good starting point for a discussion, a textbook is not going to improve your students’ speaking or listening skills.

Use fun ice-breakers, games and team activities to get your class talking. (Here are some activities that can be used for teaching oral English to intermediate-level students.)

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, in fact, a rapidly developing country and a wide range of Western toiletries are available.

While the corner store may not stock your favorite brand of hair conditioner, if you head to a large store like Walmart you’ll find many of the big American brands.

Walmart also stocks Western-style deodorant, like anti-perspirant spray and roll-on, which can be hard to find in smaller stores in China.

If you’re super fussy, best bring your own toiletries.

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

A wide range of toiletries are available in China, but deodorant can be hard to find.

7. More than 10 days’ worth of clothes

You’re an English teacher, not a catwalk model! Clothes that last you 10 days should be sufficient.

If you feel that you need to freshen up your wardrobe, go on a shopping spree. Clothes in China are cheap and there are clothing stores everywhere.

When you finally bid farewell to China, consider those who are less fortunate and leave behind any unwanted clothes.

It’s a nice thing to do, plus it’ll free up your suitcase for any travelling and shopping you do on the way home!

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


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