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. Banned foods
China isn't as strict as some countries when it comes to airport quarantine.
However, there are still some food products you're not allowed to bring with you. If you happen to have any of these things in your carry-on luggage, just dispose of them when you arrive at the airport.
- Solanaceous vegetables (this means potato, tomato, eggplant, peppers, chilies)
- Animal products including meat and seafood
- Dairy including fresh milk, eggs, cheese, butter and cream
- Fats and oils.
You would also be pretty silly to try and bring in the usual airport contraband like plants, guns and illicit drugs as set out by Chinese Customs.
2. 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.
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 your smartphone.
Or, if you're like me and think phones take poor quality photos, pack a small, lightweight digital camera.
3. An inflexible attitude
China is still regarded as a developing country.
So, if you’re from a country like the US, UK or Australia, there are going to big differences to what you’re used to.
You will experience:
- Chinese people spitting
- Shameless queue-jumping
- The famous Chinese squat toilet.
Things you may take for granted, like easily booking a tour or 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.
A typical toilet in China (except this one's really clean!).
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 – everything the country has to offer.
The quicker you can accept 'the China way', the sooner you’ll adapt to this fascinating country.
4. 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.
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.
5. 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!
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.
Tip for holidaymakers
Going to China on a short vacation? Check ahead with your phone company for international rates.
You can also use free Wi-Fi, 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!
6. Only a credit card
The Chinese use their phones to pay for absolutely everything, from food and clothing to public transport and airfares.
As a foreigner in China, you too can use your phone to pay for things with the English version of Alipay.
Just be mindful that you need to upload some personal information to get started, including a photo of your passport.
If you're not comfortable with that, you'll need to use cash or card when making purchases in China.
Whatever you do though, don’t just bring a credit card expecting it’ll be accepted everywhere. It won’t be.
Credit cards are accepted in some places in China, but not everywhere.
You’ll need cash for small purchases and for the merchants that don’t accept card. For example, Chinese taxi drivers are notorious for not accepting card.
I’ve personally found cash to be way more convenient than card in China.
7. 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.
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!
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? Leave a comment below.