Only a decade or so ago, there were numerous Western items that you simply couldn't get in China. How times have changed!

China is modernizing at such a fast rate that Western items are no longer hard to find. A number of large multinational stores like Walmart, Carrefour and Metro, have opened their doors in China in recent years, making it easy to buy your favorite things from back home. Choosing what to throw in your shopping cart is the hard part!

Although the life of the English teacher in China has become easier, there are still a few things we recommend you bring from home. We've highlighted these below.

Laptop or notebook

As a teacher in China, you simply can't live without your laptop or notebook. You'll need it for work (to prepare and write lesson plans) and pleasure (such as keeping in contact with family and friends).

Although computers are widely available in China, the last thing you'll want to do is look for one when you first arrive. You'd have to consider negotiating, the inital setup, warranty and so on. Unless you can speak and read Mandarin, or you have a Chinese friend who can help, it's best you bring your own.

If you're thinking about bringing a tablet (like an iPad) with you instead of a laptop, think again. As an organized and effective teacher, outside of the classroom you'll be doing lots of lesson planning, research and writing. It's much easier to do this on a laptop or notebook than on a tablet.

Teaching materials

Some schools in China will have a structured syllabus and accompanying text book, while others will be more flexible and allow you to create your own syllabus. Either way, it’s best to come prepared with at least a week’s worth of lesson plans.

Fortunately, we provide a bunch of free lesson plans to help you get started.

Avoid bringing any heavy text books – you probably won’t use them. Instead, your curious students will be much more interested in authentic things from your country like:

  • Money (notes and coins)
  • Photos of your family and friends
  • Food products and/or labels
  • Restaurant menus
  • Magazines, pictures and posters
  • Videos, and
  • Music (electronic files or even a small instrument).

Travel adapter

China's electricity supply runs at 220 V and uses angled two- or three-pin plugs.

This is the same as Australia and New Zealand. If you're from one of these countries, simply plug in your electronic device and you're good to go.

For everyone else, a travel adapter/convertor is necessary. Although they're available in China, it's easier to bring an adapter with you than hunt for one the minute you arrive.

Make sure you pack a couple of adapters if you plan on using multiple devices at the same time.

Toiletries and medications

Toiletries (like shampoo) and over-the-counter medications (like headache tablets) are available everywhere in China. However, if you're a bit fussy and only like using certain brands, you'd best bring your own.

If you're teaching in China for just a year, bringing a small supply of your favorite toiletries and medications from home may last well into your contract. Make the most of your airline's maximum weight allowance when packing your luggage.

If you use any prescription medication, it goes without saying that you should bring what you need.

Most Chinese people don't use Western-style deodorant, like anti-perspirant spray and roll on. Don't panic though - you can still get it by heading to one of China's countless Walmart stores.

Small gifts

You're going to meet some lifelong friends in China. So when you eventually part ways, it's a nice gesture to give them a small keepsake from your country.

The gift doesn't have to be elaborate or break the bank. After all, it's the thought that counts.

If you have absolutely no room in your suitcase for small gifts, why not slip in some nice cards?