Updated on February 20, 2020 by Asher Fergusson
For some, it can be hard to know what you need to take to China. So, I put together this essential checklist including an important section on what to wear in China.
Get ready for a journey in all senses. Be sure to bring an open heart and mind, patience and your sense of humor.
What to Pack for China – 17 Essentials
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5) Virtual Private Network (VPN) – China’s firewall and Internet monitoring/censorship is legendary. Many sites are blocked (including Google, Facebook and YouTube) and so if you don’t have your own private network you will not be able to access your favorite websites while you’re traveling. I recommend NordVPN to solve this problem. Do keep in mind that even with a VPN, the Internet is still monitored and you’ll want to avoid raising any red flags with your browsing habits.
Another reason to get a good VPN is because it protects you with 1 click from losing your passwords, credit cards and identity. Hackers are known to target tourists on unsecured WiFi networks.
- Elderberry Gummies – These tasty little gummies deliver a powerful punch of elderberry extract (vitamin C and Zinc) which are known to boost your body’s immunity.
- Echinacea Goldenseal Pills – These pills are perfect for combating sinus infections, mild colds and flu symptoms which can be common for tourists to experience upon landing in China.
- Probiotics – One of the best ways to boost immunity is to improve your gut health. Probiotics are a proven way to replenish the “good bacteria” which helps fight off the bad bacteria thereby making you less susceptible to travelers diarrhea.
- Zinc Spray – This spray is a great way to soothe the throat which can be easily irritated by the pollution in China. It also helps prevent the common cold if you use it as soon as you feel your throat getting sore.
Other China packing list items not to forget
Shoulder bag: Women’s and Men’s
Sweater: Women’s and Men’s
Gloves: Women’s and Men’s
Scarf: Women’s and Men’s
Sunglasses: Women’s and Men’s
Antibacterial toothbrush cover
Hand sanitizer wipes
Stain remover wipes
Vitamins: Women’s and Men’s
Lightweight sleeping bag/bedliner
Copy of passport and visa page
What to wear in China
The Chinese have a fun and quirky style where age does not tend to dictate how to dress. In fact, you’ll often see toddlers with open bottom pants that expose their bum while walking on the streets along with grannies in their pajamas in the evenings. Fashion here is a lot of fun! Pack casual outfits and feel free to wear lots of colors from your socks, to your pants, and shirts.
Beijing is a very large country where temperatures can vary quite a bit depending where you are. For this post, we will focus on the most popular tourist places including Beijing, Shanghai, and Xi-an. If you plan to visit the North in a place like Harbin, expect much colder temperatures while in the South like the Guangxi and Yunnan province, temperatures will be much hotter and very humid.
WINTER – December, January, February
Winter month weather and can regularly dip below freezing. The temperature averages between a low of 32°F to a high of 52°F. During these months, air pollution is at its peak where locals are frequently advised to stay indoors and avoid any outdoor activity.
If you are traveling during this time, it’s a good idea to pack an air pollution mask that can filter airborne particles with good ventilation. Pack warm clothing such as long underwear, fleece lined pants, thermal long sleeves and sweaters. Wear a warm jacket outside and protect yourself from windy days with a thick scarf, hat, and some gloves.
SPRING – March, April, May
Spring temperatures range between a low of 41°F to a high of 75°F. Spring is one of the nicest seasons to visit, where flowers are blooming and their scent lingers in the air.
It can get quite warm, particularly in April and May so pack some shorts, teeshirts, dresses and a hat for outside. For cooler days, also bring a light sweater and pants. Lastly, Don’t be afraid to incorporate some bright colors like yellows, lavender purple, and baby blue into your clothes.
SUMMER – June, July, August
Summer is the hottest and most humid time to be in China. The temperature varies between a low of 68°F and a high of 90°F. While it is hot and humid inside, malls, museum, and many restaurants have the air-conditioning cranked on high which can leave you feeling quite cool. Men should pack plenty of shorts to wear with dry fit teeshirts and polos. Women should bring lots of shorts, capris, loose teeshirts, and dresses.
Chinese women are conservative with tops so if you want to wear a tank or dress, make sure that it’s not spaghetti straps and does not expose any cleavage. Shorts and dresses can be any length so don’t be afraid to show some leg. If you really want to blend in with the locals, bring an umbrella for outside. While it doesn’t often rain, locals use the umbrella to protect them from the sun and from getting tanned. If you don’t bring an umbrella, make sure to wear plenty of sunscreen. If you are going to a beach, opt for a one piece. Lastly, the streets can get quite dirty so it is better to wear shoes out over sandals even with the hot weather.
FALL – September, October, November
Fall temperatures are pleasant and it is a beautiful time to visit. The temperature averages between a low of 48°F and a high of 81°F. The weather varies the most during these months where September often still feels like summer but it gets much cooler after that.
Dress in layers which you can peel off if it gets hotter. Men should bring pants, shorts, teeshirts and long sleeves. Women should pack shorts, leggings, teeshirts and sweaters. It’s a great idea to pack a dress that is versatile and can be worn on its own or with leggings. Also bring a light jacket for outside and a hat.
Temples – China has a rich history with many beautifully constructed ancient temples with intricate designs. The hanging monastery in Datong, is astonishingly built into the cliffside while Lingyin temple in Hangzhou has hundreds of buddhas carved in the grottos. You can dress casually when visiting temples. Just avoid wearing tank tops and shirts that expose the midriff. Women often wear heels with jeans and a teeshirt. Men wear jeans or trousers with teeshirts. Oftentimes, getting to the temples is a bit of a walk so you will want to wear comfortable shoes despite seeing many Chinese women hiking in their heels!
The Great Wall of China – More than 2,300 years old and a length of 13,710 miles (21,196 km), it is not surprising that the Great Wall of China is part f the 7 wonders. You can see The Great Wall in a fully restored version at Mutianyu, Jinshanling and Badaling locations just to name a few. These parts tend to be heavily crowded and should be avoided during any holiday. If you prefer to get away from the crowds, check out the unrestored sections such as Gubeikou. Either way, the best way to see the wall is on a tour. When it comes to dressing, prepare yourself for a hot, long hike so dress in active wear with dry fit shorts and tops. You will need a hat during sunny days and a jacket between fall to spring as it can be quite windy. If you are going to the unrestored section you may want to bring hiking boots but you will also be fine in sport sneakers.
Chuanr and Karaoke – A favorite weekend activity for the Chinese is to go out for some local grilled meat on skewers (known as chuanr) and sip on some Chinese beer (Tsingtao is very popular). You can find these places scattered across cities, particularly in Beijing. You’ll know you are at the right spot if you see it packed with locals sitting on plastic kiddie chairs outside. Afterwards, head out for a night of karaoke. Dressing up for a night like this is very casual. You’ll often see locals in jeans and teeshirts. If you want to really blend it, choose a graphic tee.
Exploring Ancient Alleyways – From the hutongs in Beijing to longtangs in Shanghai, these ancient alleyways are full of tasty hole-in-the-wall restaurants, cafe, bars, shops, and even locals living there. In Shanghai, check out Tianzifang and Huaihaifang alleyways and if you are in Beijing go to Nanluogu Xiang or Gulou. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes while exploring these alleyways. Choose very casual outfits with nothing that looks expensive to avoid being harassed by hawkers and black cab taxi drivers who want your money! Do not bring anything valuable with you and protect your things in an RFID wallet or crossbody purse.
What NOT to bring to China
1) DON’T PACK Lots of electronics – It’s never a good idea to travel with expensive items that you don’t absolutely need, and there’s no exception for electronics, even in our device-driven world. Electronics tend to be heavy, fragile, and unnecessary on trips, though we still recommend bringing your phone, kindle, and camera along for the ride.
2) DON’T BRING Books – Save the weight, save the space; load those books onto a Kindle instead. It’s lightweight, and can hold more books than you could possibly carry, including guidebooks and phrasebooks for local languages!
3) DON’T TAKE Politically sensitive material – It’s important to remember that China is a much more guarded country, and that along with those previously mentioned internet restrictions come some additional cultural and governmental sensitivities. Bringing anything that might be seen as inflammatory or disrespectful is unwise, and may cause you some trouble during your travels.
4) DON’T PACK Too many clothes – You won’t need very much clothing for most seasons in China, and you don’t want to weigh yourself down with luggage any more than you already will be. If you’re traveling with clothing that can dry quickly, it’s easy to wash your items yourself. If you need professional laundry services, they’re provided by most hotels, or you can seek a coin-operated laundry should you need to. Bottom line: pack things that you need, leave things that you don’t, and choose items that can be re-worn or easily washed.
5) DON’T BRING Expensive jewelry – Yes, you’ll need to look nice and you may want to bring some inexpensive jewelry for that purpose, but bringing expensive jewelry on your travels is never wise. Unless it’s something you never remove and you’re sure it’s not going to get lost, it’s best to leave valuables like these at home and away from risk.
6) DON’T TAKE Delicate or expensive clothes – Just like valuable jewelry, clothing is at some amount of risk of breakage or being misplaced every time you travel. You’ll want to feel completely comfortable tackling your travel activities wearing what you bring, so pack accordingly!
7) DON’T PACK A towel – A standard-weight and full-sized towel is very unnecessary, and adds considerable bulk and weight to your belongings. Stick with a travel towel instead.
8) DON’T BRING Lots of cash – Yes, you will make some purchases from cash-only vendors, but the amount of cash you will need should still be minimal, and it’s much safer to use your credit card to make purchases. Just be sure to tell your banking institution(s) that you’ll be traveling to China before you leave!
9) DON’T TAKE Overly casual clothes – There are times when dressing casually will be appropriate, such as when hiking or exploring areas that are not as urban, but there will really not be a time or a place for excessively casual clothing or clothing that is considered immodest. Wearing this kind of clothing will only attract unwelcome attention.
China is fairly lax when it comes to what to wear. Women can wear any shorts and dresses in any length but they need to be more conservative up top. Do not wear shirts that expose cleavage and avoid spaghetti straps. Women wear minimal makeup so you will not need more than a bottle of mascara and lipstick. Avoid packing white clothes as they can get dirty very easily. Sandals are only a good idea for the beach and shouldn’t be worn on the streets which are also very dirty. Also if you are a women going to the beach, stick to a one piece to avoid unwanted attention. Lastly, leave your valuables at home and wear minimal jewelry.
FAQs about travel in China
1) Is the tap water in China safe to drink?
Most tap water in China will not contain bacteria, but it may contain chemicals and traces of heavy metals. It is safe enough to drink but not healthy in the long-run, so it’s best to stick with filtered water from fountains (that’s where your travel water bottle comes in handy), or bottled water.
2) How bad is the pollution in China? Should I really bring a mask?
Air quality is one of the biggest challenges to tourists visiting China, especially if they have asthma or bronchial problems; the cities tend to be very polluted. Often the pollution hangs over the city in a visible smog, but even when it is not visible fine particulate pollution is often present. City pollution levels are tracked daily online which may help you plan your trip. Traveling after a national festival or heavy rain season may mean cleaner air.
3) Is the internet accessible in China?
The internet is accessible but parts of it are blocked, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter. If you subscribe to a good Virtual Private Network like NordVPN you should be able to access most of the internet, but internet usage is heavily monitored by the government so be mindful of how you use it.
4) How prevalent is English in China?
A lot of educated Chinese people learn English in school, but may be shy to use it. In tourist centers, staff at hotels and attractions should speak basic English but that’s not always the case. It’s helpful to have a few phrases with you. In restaurants English is often not spoken, so communication may be a little trickier. If you have specific dietary needs, be sure to look up phrases for those before you go, and consider bringing pictures if you find that the language is difficult.
5) Where is the best food in China?
One of the great things about China is its incredible food culture – you can find great food just about anywhere! Southern regions in China are most famous for their varied cuisine and unique flavors.
6) Should I tip in China?
China is not a country where tipping is expected or even part of the culture.
7) Where can travelers get off the beaten path in China?
China is huge so it’s fairly easy to strike out beyond the usual tourist standbys. Consult a guide book for ideas, and be sure to do your research before you go – remember that internet restrictions may make accessing information pretty difficult once you’re there.
8) What is the best way to get around China?
The train system is fast and generally affordable, but tickets can sell out quickly so it’s best to plan in advance. Flights are a good way to cover longer distances – delays are common, but travel will still be faster via plane. Buses are cheap but have a bad reputation for safety, but on the other hand buses can often access travel areas that other vehicles of transportation cannot.
9) Do I need a visa to visit China?
Most western passport holders need a visa to visit China unless they are there in transit between two countries for a few days. The requirements vary by passport and sometimes change without warning, so it’s best to sort out a visa well in advance and to verify that you’ve done everything required of you before you leave. Most US passport holders can apply for a ten year multiple entry visa.
10) What is the best time of year to visit China?
11) How can I save money while traveling in China?
China is a fairly cheap place to travel, and staying in smaller towns or cities will slash costs compared to staying in places like Shanghai. Eating local food instead of western food is another smart way to save money and to savor the local culture.
12) How safe is it to travel in China?
In general, China is a safe country for travelers – there is little random violence or street crime. The most common annoyances for tourists are likely to be scams in tourist centers like Beijing, such as a teahouse scam where someone invites you for tea and then bills you heavily. Other issues can come up in urban areas where traffic can be dangerous.
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