China can sound like a very foreign destination that may be intimidating to some, but it’s truly a joy to explore such a fascinating country with its incredibly deep, rich history.
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.
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What to Pack for China – 17 Essentials
1. Pollution Mask
China has a serious pollution problem, especially in most of the cities. You’ll see a lot of local people wearing masks as they go about their everyday lives on the street. It’s a good idea to protect yourself when in areas with dense pollution. Getting a high-quality mask before you go will potentially save you from paying a higher price for one when you arrive.
China uses a 220 Volt 50 Hz AC electricity supply. There are several socket types commonly used – these include Type I, B and C. To be safe, it’s best to have a universal adapter to ensure that you’ll always be able to charge your devices, regardless of the socket, and that your devices won’t get fried in the process of charging!
I can’t speak highly enough about these activated charcoal capsules. Traveler’s diarrhea is an unfortunate truth that can happen while exploring new places like China, and in any situation where you’re going to be trying new foods and traveling to unfamiliar territory, it’s a great idea to have these with you. The charcoal absorbs irritants and toxins that may be causing upset, and helps your system “reset” so that you can get back to feeling normal and travel-ready.
Rummaging around in your bags for something you can’t find is annoying as heck when you’re on the road. Packing cubes are the solution for keeping what’s inside your suitcase organized, making it super easy to find t-shirts (or whatever) because they’re all in one cube.
Note: My wife and I personally designed these packing cubes after having subpar experiences with the low-quality ones available on Amazon. Our packing cubes come with premium YKK zippers, puncture-resistant ripstop Nylon, and quality workmanship backed by our lifetime replacement guarantee. We just launched and we’re currently offering our readers an exclusive 15% discount! Use this coupon “2R574QV9” at checkout. Only available in the USA.
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 that it protects you with 1 click from losing your passwords, credit cards, and identity. Hackers are known to target tourists on unsecured WiFi networks.
I know, this one may sound a little strange, but did you know that one of the most common kinds of toilets in China is a “squat toilet”? You will have access to some western-style toilets in larger cities, but you’ll find that squat toilets are still extremely common, and a little challenging to use until you get used to them. Female urination devices like this one make your job a little easier, especially if you have a hard time squatting for any length of time.
Speaking of toiletries and squat toilets, you may want to think about bringing along some of your own toilet paper. Chinese toilets, especially in rural areas, are often quite ill equiped (which may include no toilet paper), so it’s better to plan ahead than to be caught in an uncomfortable situation.
China is a place where travel insurance is essential. You need to expect the unexpected and be prepared for changes that you may not have planned for. Just like you wouldn’t drive a car without car insurance, then you should travel without travel insurance. I use and recommend TravelInsurance.com where you can compare policies from top companies to find the best option for you.
This phone case is my new favorite travel item – it provides fantastic protection from dirt, dust, scratches, and water, and it’s super affordable! We all travel with our phones and rely on them heavily, so protection like this really can’t be beat.
You’re bound to travel quite some distance even on a short trip to China, and you’ll be doing a lot of walking along the way – that means your luggage will likely be bounced around at the airport, dragged along behind you as you move from one place to another, pulled along uneven roads and pavement, etc. I recommend this rolling suitcase over those ones with four wheels because it’s way easier to handle. It’s also lightweight and affordable.
The most likely crime that a Chinese felon would commit on a tourist is pickpocketing. Therefore, I suggest you keep your passport, credit cards and cash in a RFID blocking passport pouch like this one pictured. Since you can wear it under your clothing, it’s next to impossible for anyone to steal from.
Malaria and Dengue Fever affect many parts of China and so it’s best to be prepared to fend off mosquitoes. These wristbands are remarkably effective and are deet-free. I also recommend bringing mosquito repelling
A big part of staying healthy while traveling in China is by maintaining excellent immunity. Below are some of the key items I bring to keep my going strong naturally.
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.
Liquid shampoo often times can spill in your bag, and only a small amount can be carried onto flights. Solid shampoo is the answer! This one from J. R. Liggetts is my favorite because I literally can’t tell the difference between it and regular shampoo.
It removes “99.9% of waterborne bacteria and parasites” while also minimizing pollutants that may be in the water. China has a lot of free drinking fountains in places like train stations and other public areas, and a filtered water bottle is ideal to carry water with you so that you can avoid having to purchase pre-bottled drinking water which can be expensive and pollutes the environment.
China is a place where you will likely be doing many extended day trips to explore the incredible sites and scenery. This means you will be away from a power source during the day. This cool device will allow you to charge your phone and camera etc while you’re out and about. It’s been a godsend for me several times when my phone almost died!
China is a fascinating country with a climate that changes dramatically depending where you go. From the beautiful Longji rice paddies in the South to the huangshan mountains of the East, the rainbow mountains of the North and Lhasa (‘place of the gods’) in the West, the landscape is very diverse. The fashions of the locals reflect this diversity.
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.
What should WOMEN wear in China? – (Click to expand)
Below is a sample women’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
Chinese women have a playful style and incorporate lots of colors. You can show skin on the legs but be more conservative up top. As a foreigner, you most likely will stand out and attract attention from the locals. To blend in though, wear skinny jeans, leggings, or loose shorts depending on the weather. For tops, choose something with a thicker strap if you are going to wear a tank or go with graphic tees, kimono cardigans, loose teeshirts, or long sleeves. Dresses are very popular in the summer. To add some style, wear a vintage fedora hat and some round sunglasses. It can get quite humid, so wear a silk headband and put your hair up in a bun. The most popular choice of footwear amongst women is heels no matter what activity but that’s not ideal for exploring China. Instead, bring a pair of sports sneakers or loafer shoes that are comfortable for long hours of walking around. Lastly, be careful of scammers and pickpocketing in the major cities by keeping your possessions in an RFID crossbody bag.
What should MEN wear in China? – (Click to expand)
Below is a sample men’s clothing list. (All items link to Amazon.com for your convenience).
Men in China also have a unique style wearing pants of all different colors and cool graphic tees. Men wear pants that tend to be well fitted such as jeans or tapered trousers. If it’s hot, cargo shorts are a good choice. On top, go with moisture-wicking shirts or polos for hot humid days and, graphic tees, long sleeves, or cardigans during cooler times of the year. Retro sunglasses and a hat are great to wear outside. Be prepared for a ton of walking by packing comfortable shoes like the Adidas street sneakers. You will find it very useful to bring a compact, lightweight day bag to store your water bottle, travel guidebook, souvenirs, and other things during your days out. Lastly, if you are visiting cities like Beijing or Shanghai, get a tailored made suit for back home. Prices are ridiculously cheap and well worth it if you need a suit for a special occasion or for work.
Packing for the Seasons in China
Beijing is a very large country where temperatures can vary quite a bit depending on 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 provinces, 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, museums, 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 themselves 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 that 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 the outdoors along with a hat.
How to dress correctly for the activity in China – (Click to expand)
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 activewear 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 sports 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. Afterward, 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, cafes, 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.
What clothing should I NOT to wear in China? – (Click to expand)
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 woman 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, the 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?
In the winter northern China gets very cold and visiting at that time is for cold-lovers. If you’re able to enjoy the cold, though, there are many amazing sites and festivities to experience during this time! One example is the famous Ice Festival held in Harbin in January. On the opposite end, Summer can get very hot and humid not only in the south but also inland, even further north like Beijing. There are festivals in the summer as well, but it’s not the most comfortable time to travel if you don’t like the heat. Spring and autumn are widely accepted as the best times to visit and are often very busy tourist times.
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.