Wondering what to pack for China?

I’ve got you.

From the absolute essentials to the things that are best left behind, this is the only China packing list you’ll ever need.

I’ll explain why I bring each thing, and I’ll highlight optional items for different seasons and scenarios.

Plus, I promise not to include links to unnecessary things like expensive backpacks or useless Amazon gadgets. You’ll only find valuable advice in this article.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to tick things off, you can save this China packing list PDF to your phone or computer. Simply tick what you already have and what you need to get.

Flying out today? Head straight to my 11 essential things to bring to China and come back to this page only if you have time.

Alright, let’s get packing!

1. China packing list – critical items

Don’t leave for the airport without these things:

  • ZPassport
  • ZChinese visa
  • ZPhone and phone charger
  • ZDebit card
  • ZCredit card
  • ZPrescription medication
  • ZHotel address in Chinese characters

Passport

This is obviously not just critical to get into China, but once you’re there it’s your national ID.

You’ll need to show your passport when you check in to any accommodation (it’s the law) as well as when buying long-distance train tickets.

Chinese visa

You may need to get a visa when you travel to China. It depends on where you’re going, how long you’re staying, and what country you’re from.

For really quick trips (i.e. less than six days), you could be eligible for what’s called Visa Free Transit. But if you’re not, you’ll need to compile some documentation and pay a visa fee – again, this depends on where you’re from.

Visa is critical for your China packing list

You won’t get far without your Chinese visa. Image by i viewfinder on Shutterstock.

Check the China visa page for more information and help.

Phone and phone charger

I know I’d be absolutely lost without my phone in China.

It’s not just my communication tool, but it’s my internet access, my banking, my emergency contacts, my alarm clock, my flashlight…

Debit card and credit card

I bring at least one of each, plus an emergency credit card locked in my suitcase in case the unthinkable happens and I lose my wallet and/or phone.

If you’re thinking of bringing only credit cards, think again. These are only good for big purchases in China. Bring cash (as I explain later) to make small purchases at places like street food vendors.

Prescription medication

If you forget your medication, you could find yourself in a world of hurt. The Chinese healthcare system is different, and it’s not as simple as making an appointment with a physician.

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If you’re worried about bringing prescription medication into China, just bring along a doctor’s letter. And only bring the quantities you need.

Hotel address in Chinese characters

Have your accommodation address (e.g. hotel, hostel) on your phone in Chinese characters. This is so you can show it to your taxi driver at the airport.

Even if you have someone meeting you at the airport, like a tour guide, it’s good to have a back-up plan just in case.

I always have the hotel’s address written down manually too, just in case my phone dies or I can’t bring it up the information. This has saved me a few times!

2. China packing list – essential items

I make sure I also have these things for a stress-free trip to China:

  • ZYuan (Chinese cash)
  • ZTravel insurance
  • ZVPN
  • ZTravel adapter
  • ZDay pack and/or handbag
  • ZToilet tissues
  • ZFace masks
  • ZCopies of documents
  • ZReading glasses or contacts

Yuan

I like arriving in China with at least 1,000 yuan in cash.

This is roughly US$150 or £120 (you can check XE to convert to your currency). Just don’t come overloaded with cash – 20,000 yuan is the limit.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve arrived in China and the taxi driver’s electronic payment terminal is miraculously out of order.

Also, try to get notes in low denominations if you can. It makes things easier (though it does fatten your wallet).

Travel insurance

The Chinese medical system is not the same as back home. Medical costs may be required upfront, and English may not be spoken in the hospital.

So, if something were to happen, would you be able to cope – both mentally and financially – if you didn’t have cover?

Get a China travel insurance quote.

Virtual private network (VPN)

If you’re like most travelers, you’re going to want to use Wi-Fi in your hotel room in China. Otherwise, you could be in for a huge phone bill shock when you return home!

All the major foreign websites and apps are blocked when using Wi-Fi in China, so you’ll need a VPN app to access them.

Take a read of my China VPN review for the ones that work.

Trust me, traveling in China without WhatsApp, Google, Gmail, Google Maps, Instagram and Facebook (the list goes on) is unpleasant.

Travel adapter

China’s electrical sockets are unique. In my travels across the country, I’ve seen every kind of combination possible.

Officially, 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.

Travel adapter is essential for your China packing list

This is a must-have item on my China packing list. Image by Paralaxis on Shutterstock.

New, modern hotels are usually fine and cater to foreign travelers from America and Europe. But it’s not always the case, so stuff an international adapter into your bag.

Day pack and/or handbag

A day pack or small backpack is ideal for touring around China.

Although China is safe, I like using a day pack that’s lockable so I don’t need to worry about being in crowded environments (in some tourist places you will literally have people pressed up against you).

If you’re female, also bring a decent sized handbag that has a zipper for safety.

Toilet tissues

Public toilets in China don’t provide toilet paper. That’s why I like bringing a small stash, so I can go sightseeing straightaway and not have to worry about a potentially awkward situation.

Face masks

In a COVID world, I always like to have face masks handy. And in many places in China, like airports, masks are mandatory.

Electronic and printed copy of important documents

If you lose your passport, then you also lose your visa. That’s why I take photos of all my important documents and save them, as well as print a hardcopy as a backup.

Some places may require to see your ID. This is another reason why having a copy of your passport is so helpful.

Glasses or contacts

I struggle to read maps or anything that’s really close to my face. So, if you’re losing your sight like me, glasses or contacts are an essential item on your China packing list.

3. China packing list – clothes and shoes

Here’s what you’ll need for a trip of up to 10 days:

  • ZSocks x 7*
  • ZUnderwear x 7*
  • ZBra x 4* (for the ladies)
  • ZT-shirts or shirts x 7*
  • ZSweaters x 2 (or long-sleeve shirts if warm weather)
  • ZJeans or trousers/skirts x 2 (or shorts if warm weather)
  • ZBelt
  • ZNice outfit if you plan on going out, including shoes
  • ZPajamas
  • ZComfy walking shoes

*Quantities are based on doing washing part-way through your trip. If you wash on day 5, you’ll still have a couple of days of clean clothes left while you wait for things to dry. Everything else can be washed when you get home.

I recommend wearing some of the heaviest stuff (e.g. jeans and sweater) on the plane to help lighten your load. It’s also beneficial when the temperature drops in the cabin.

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If your belt has a metal buckle, remember to take it off before going through airport security. I often forget this!

For season-specific requirements, there’s more info further down.

4. China packing list – toiletries

Only pack small amounts for a short trip:

  • ZFacial tissues
  • ZDeodorant
  • ZToothbrush
  • ZToothpaste
  • ZDental floss
  • ZSoap
  • ZShampoo
  • ZConditioner
  • ZCleanser and/or moisturizer
  • ZPads or tampons (for the ladies)
  • ZMakeup (for the ladies)
  • ZHand sanitizer
  • ZSunscreen
  • ZBrush or comb
  • ZRazor/Shaver
  • ZShaving gel or foam
  • ZTravel-size laundry detergent
  • ZAdhesive strips

Facial tissues

You definitely won’t get these in hostels, but even some hotels can be quite stingy when it comes to facial tissues. I like bringing a small travel pack. You can always grab more once you’re in China.

Deodorant

Make sure you bring deodorant to China. Local guys (and plenty of women) don’t use it so it can be hard to find.

Toothbrush, toothpaste and dental floss

I pack a manual toothbrush as it’s lighter than an electric one, plus it’s one less thing you need to charge.

I’m a mad flosser and I don’t like the kind of dental floss you get in China. It’s like fishing wire so I always bring my own.

Soap, shampoo and conditioner

These items will be supplied in Chinese hotels, even the budget ones, so aren’t essential for your China packing list. However, the quality is usually lousy so bring your own if you’re fussy or concerned about nasty ingredients.

If you’re staying in a hostel, make sure you bring all three things.

Cleanser and/or moisturizer

Equivalent products can be found in China but ingredients will be listed in Mandarin. And the last thing you want is a rash!

Pads or tampons

Of course these are available in China, but the packaging is in Mandarin so if you have particular preferences it’s better to BYO unless you can read Chinese.

Tampons are harder to find because they’re more expensive and awareness of them is lower than pads. If you want to find out more about that, have a read of this article.

Makeup

Bring only what you need, but if you do buy makeup in China, note that it might have skin-whitening ingredients (which may not suit you).

And remember that makeup which is made and sold in mainland China has been subjected to animal testing. No thanks.

Hand sanitizer

This is widely available in China but I like having my travel-size bottle with me so I can sanitize after I’ve used gross restrooms.

Hand sanitizer

Sanitizer is made for travel! Image by Towfiqu Barbhuiya on Unsplash.

Public restrooms in China don’t have soap.

Sunscreen

If you’re going to a warm city or anywhere in China where there’s hot sun, you’ll need sunscreen. Chinese sunscreen often has whitening in it, so best bring your own.

If you do buy sunscreen in China, you won’t have a problem finding high SPF protection. The Chinese hate getting brown.

Brush or comb

I don’t have much hair left so I don’t need a brush or comb! But I know this is an essential item for a lot of people.

Razor/Shaver and shaving gel or foam

Easy to find in China, but personally I’d rather be exploring the magnificent Longji Rice Terraces than looking for a place that sells shaving stuff.

Travel-size laundry detergent

Pour your detergent from home into a tiny bottle. This is all you’ll need for a short stay.

Some people like to give their washing to the hotel to look after, but I find this pretty expensive in China. Plus, I don’t mind washing my stuff in the wash basin and hanging it up with my travel clothes line if I know I’m going to be in one spot for long enough (as I explain further down).

Adhesive strips

When I travel, I like walking a lot. This often means blisters on my heels at the end of a long day.

I only bring half a dozen adhesive strips with me, not a whole box, because my body adjusts fairly quickly and every little bit of saved space in my bag helps.

5. China packing list – useful extras

You may or may not need some of these things. I bring most:

  • ZComfort food
  • ZCamera and charger
  • ZE-reader and charger
  • ZPrepaid SIM card
  • ZTravel apps
  • ZEarplugs
  • ZEye mask
  • ZHairbands or hair clips
  • ZCondoms and lubricant
  • ZOver-the-counter medications
  • ZTablet or laptop and charger
  • ZBluetooth speaker and charger
  • ZHeadphones
  • ZClothes line
  • ZPlastic or fabric bag
  • ZSmall padlocks
  • ZGuidebook

Comfort food

Packing comfort food is like packing toilet tissues. If I want to hit the ground running, I like knowing I have some bags of snacks from home that will get me through the day.

Bringing some comfort food is also a good idea if you tend to get homesick when you travel.

Camera and charger

I’m a bit old-school and bring a proper digital camera with me when I visit China. Why? A camera takes a much higher quality photo than a phone. But if you’re happy with just basic happy snaps on your phone, leave camera off your list.

E-reader and charger

I like to read when I travel. Sometimes I’ll bring a physical book, but usually I bring my Kindle so I can pick and choose what to read. E-readers are also much slimmer than books.

Prepaid SIM card

For short trips to China, I enable global roaming if my phone company has OK rates overseas. Otherwise, buy a prepaid travel SIM card before you go and you can rest assured you won’t get stung.

SIM card is an optional extra for your China packing list

Use a travel SIM if your global roaming rates are pricey. Image by Hyotographics on Shutterstock.

You can also get a SIM card when you arrive in China – just make sure your phone is unlocked. However, you may need to know Chinese (or know how to translate) which is why I recommend a prepaid SIM from home instead.

Travel apps

Have all your travel apps pre-downloaded and ready to go. Refer to this article for the most useful China travel apps, and don’t forget the VPN app absolutely must be downloaded before you go.

Earplugs

Super-duper important if you find it hard falling asleep when it’s noisy (which is most of the time in China).

Eye mask

Good for the plane as well as some hotel rooms where the light might creep in at an ungodly hour.

Hairbands or hair clips

If you’ve got long hair, pack some hairbands. At least you know they’re small and light!

Condoms and lubricant

Guys, best bring your own if you have preferences or you don’t want to brave the stores looking for some. If you’re hung, BYO condoms.

Over-the-counter medications

While over-the-counter medications are available everywhere in China, products labels are in Chinese and pharmacy staff may not understand English.

I always like to bring paracetamol and vitamins. And if you haven’t been to China before, I recommend bringing something to stop you from vomiting as well as something to stop diarrhea.

Please take a read of these tips if you’re going on your first trip to China.

Tablet or laptop and charger

This is a no-brainer for me as I need my laptop to work remotely. But you may also benefit from bringing your tablet or laptop as a form of entertainment (e.g. pre-downloaded movies) while you’re in the air or just chilling in your Chinese hotel room.

Bluetooth speaker and charger

A phone’s tinny speaker is enough for most people, but I’m fussy when it comes to listening to music. I like a crisp, loud sound, which is why I bring my own small Bluetooth speaker.

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If you’re sharing a room while you visit China, only one person in the room needs to pack a speaker. So, if you have time when preparing your China packing list, tell your roommate not to bring theirs (or vice-versa).

Headphones

Noise-cancelling headphones are great for long-haul flights to China. You block out other annoying passengers, and you block out that annoying ‘hummmm’ that never stops.

They’re also good once you land in China if you want to listen to music or podcasts.

Clothes line

You can get your clothes laundered in all the big hotels in China. However, the price can be exorbitant, depending on where you’re staying.

If I know I’m going to be in the one place for a while, I wash my underwear in the hotel basin and hang it on my lightweight travel clothes line. The line has a hook on each end, so you can usually find somewhere to hang it.

Plastic or fabric bag

This helps keep your dirty clothes away from your clean clothes.

Small padlocks

I prefer to lock my suitcase when I’m out sightseeing. The locks are also good when you’re going through airports.

Guidebook

I personally don’t bring guidebooks with me to China, but I know lots of people who swear by them. Try bringing an electronic version if you can.

China packing list for winter

China is a huge country, so the weather is extremely variable.

When you travel across the country, you can experience almost arctic temperatures in the north as well as tropical heat in the south.

Familiarize yourself with China’s weather before you go, and Google the particular cities you’ll be in.

North and west China

Winter in China’s north and west can be brutal. In addition to the items mentioned above, stick these things in your suitcase:

  • ZBeanie
  • ZScarf
  • ZGloves
  • ZThick socks x 4
  • ZThermals x 4
  • ZWinter jacket
  • ZLip balm for chapped lips

If you’re going somewhere particularly icy (this includes Beijing), bring thermal underwear. I like to get at least two days’ wear out of each piece, but the ‘smell test’ is always a good barometer.

Winter boots may also be helpful if your ordinary walking shoes aren’t up to the task, or you plan on trekking through snow.

If you’re a serious hiker, sunglasses and sunscreen are worth packing too.

South and east China

Southern China has a temperate winter, so the only extra things you may need are:

  • ZUmbrella
  • ZJacket

China packing list for summer

In addition to the items mentioned above, pop these things in your bag:

  • ZHat
  • ZFlip flops or sandals
  • ZSunglasses
  • ZSunscreen (Chinese sunscreen often has whitening in it)
  • ZSwimwear
  • ZUmbrella or thin rain jacket for tropical areas
  • ZMosquito repellent for tropical areas (and mosquito net if you’re camping)

If you plan on swimming in China, ask your hotel for an extra towel to use by the pool/beach. This will save you from bringing your own.

Cities in the south of China, like Guilin, can get really wet in the monsoon. That’s why it’s worth packing some wet weather gear like an umbrella or raincoat.

Local women also use umbrellas when the sun’s out. This stops them from tanning.

Special items for girls vs guys

I’ve mentioned these things already, but here they are with Chinese characters if you need to show someone in a store.

For the ladies:

  • ZPads 月经垫 (yuè jīng diàn)
  • ZTampons 卫生棉条 (wèi shēng mián tiáo)

For the lads:

  • ZCondoms 避孕套 (bì yùn tào)
  • ZLubricant 润滑油 (rùn huá yóu)

Special items for children

Bringing kids to China?

Take everything you would normally bring on a family vacation, and pay special attention to:

  • ZBaby formula – bring the stuff your bub is used to
  • ZDiapers – bring enough for at least the first few days
  • ZSnacks – your kids’ favorite foods may be hard to find in China
  • ZTablet – keep them entertained on the flight with a tablet loaded with movies and games

Staying longer?

If you’re staying longer than 10 days, simply add more of each item depending on how long your trip is. Just factor in how often you want to be doing washing.

For example, when my sister travels, she doesn’t like doing any washing. If her trip is 15 days long, she’ll take 15 pairs of underwear! I personally prefer to bring fewer clothes (and do washing) so I have room in my suitcase for souvenirs and gifts.

If you’re going to be in China long term, like teaching English for a year or more, I recommend packing these things where applicable:

  • ZA year’s supply of your prescription medication
  • ZUnlocked phone
  • ZVPN on your laptop (in addition to your phone)
  • ZPortable drive or cloud access
  • ZExtra shoes (shoe sizes are small in China)
  • ZAny special hair products
  • ZPerfume or cologne
  • ZAccessories like jewelry

If you rely on a hair straightener, I suggest buying one in China.

Carry-on luggage for China

Here’s the hand luggage that I routinely bring with me on the plane to China:

  • ZLaptop with pre-loaded movies
  • ZNoise cancelling headphones
  • ZHeadphone adapter
  • ZKindle
  • ZRoll-on deodorant (some airports have issues with aerosols)
  • ZEye mask and ear plugs to help me sleep
  • ZMoisturizing face wipes to keep my skin hydrated
  • ZLip balm
  • ZTissues
  • ZToothbrush and toothpaste
  • ZUnderwear
  • ZPen for filling in customs slips

The third item on this carry-on list, the headphone adapter, is something I never knew existed until fairly recently.

But this tiny thing is so handy! Basically, it means you can use your own high-quality headphones to listen to the in-flight movies and music, rather than using the crappy disposable headphones provided.

airline headphone adapter

Throw one of these in your carry-on bag, or buy one at the airport! Image supplied by Mike Cairnduff.

If you’re wondering why I bring extra underwear, it’s a little travel hack in case my luggage is lost. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but it has happened to people I know. I’d rather be prepared.

And by the way, I find those inflatable pillow things uncomfortable, which is why it’s not on the list. Some people swear by them though.

General tips when packing for China

No matter where you go, or how long you go for, remember these tips.

1. Don’t stress if you forget to pack something

You’ll find most things you need in China, so if you happen to forget your pajamas, don’t stress too much. It’s just a matter of asking your tour guide for help.

2. The Chinese are smaller

If you do forget something and need to buy it in China, remember that Chinese people are generally smaller than Westerners.

For example, if you’re normally medium in underwear, buy large or extra large in China. A lot of Westerners live in Hong Kong so it’s not as big an issue there.

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And if you have big feet, don’t plan a big shopping trip for shoes. You may not find anything that fits!

3. Layer up in winter

It’s a good idea to layer up so you can take things on and off quickly as you adjust to different temperatures. Buildings in northern China have central heating.

For me, zip-up hoodies are more practical than regular long-sleeved sweatshirts.

4. Bring quick-dry clothes

If you can, bring clothes that dry quickly. I love my decades-old Kathmandu Polartec lightweight pullover that comes out of the washing machine semi-dry, every single time.

5. Your stuff will get dirty

Don’t bring your best clothes as they may get dirty. And avoid bringing white shoes as they’re bound to get filthy in China.

6. Leave room for souvenirs

Try to leave a bit of room for Chinese souvenirs or other stuff you plan on buying while in The Middle Kingdom.

7. Watch your weight

For an economy flight to China, the checked baggage allowance is usually 23 kg (50 lb) up to 32 kg (70 lb), depending on the airline and ticket you’re on.

But some airlines allow two pieces at 23 kg (50 lb) each, so refer to your airline for the exact allowance.

What you don’t need to pack for China

There are some things you don’t need to bring with you, including:

  • QHair dryer
  • QPerfume or cologne
  • QWater bottle
  • QNail clippers
  • QFirst aid kit
  • QMandarin phrasebook
  • QBikini
  • QShower cap

Hair dryer

Chinese hotels will have these, so don’t bother taking up valuable space in your bag with a dryer from home.

Perfume or cologne

While it’s nice to smell good, unless you have lots of fancy dinners or outings planned in China, it’s best you leave your bottles of perfume at home.

Water bottle

You can’t drink from the tap in China, not even at the top hotels. It’s unsafe to drink.

Bottled water is therefore available everywhere, and while all the plastic is shocking for the environment, you’ll need to buy it.

Don't bring a water bottle to China

Buying bottled water is, sadly, normal in China. Image by Lzf on Shutterstock.

I mean, you could boil water each day in your hotel, wait for it to cool and and pour it into a bottle of your own, but can you be bothered?

Besides, I’ve always found that pre-boiled chilled water in China has a strange taste to it.

Nail clippers

For a trip that’s 10 days or under, I make sure I clip my nails the day before I leave. That way, I’m all set.

First aid kit

Unless you’re a serious hiker, don’t worry about bringing a first aid kit. Just bring all the medications you need, as well as adhesive strips. You can call for help for anything more serious.

Mandarin phrasebook

Instead of lugging around a phrasebook, use Google Translate on your phone.

Bikini

Chinese women tend to cover up a bit more when they’re swimming. Instead of a bikini, they might wear a one-piece bathing suit that has a little skirt around the waist.

Similarly, men tend to wear swim shorts rather than Speedo briefs.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t wear the swimwear of your choice in China. But you’ll stand out and, if you’re female, guys may leer at you.

Shower cap

It’s one of the few freebies you’ll find in a Chinese hotel.

Take a read of the article on what not to bring to China for more on this topic.

Don’t forget your vaccinations

You must be vaccinated for COVID-19 to get into China. There are also some recommended vaccines for China, like hepatitis and typhoid, though they’re not compulsory.

Start by reading the article on vaccinations for China, then make an appointment with your doctor ideally a few months before you fly out.

And don’t forget your VPN!

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t want to be left high and dry in China without access to all your favorite websites and apps. You must download your VPN app before you leave your country.

See your China VPN options here.

Final packing tips for China

I hope I’ve been able to help you with lots of practical advice. If you want to read more, I suggest these articles:

I hope you have an incredible adventure in China. Let me know in the comments if you feel I’ve missed a must-have item, or if you have any cool travel hacks of your own.

Have a safe journey, or in Mandarin, 一路平安 (yī lù píng ān)!

And don’t forget, you can save my China packing list PDF to your phone or computer and tick off what you already have and what you still need to get.

Main image credit: Pixel-Shot on Shutterstock.

FAQ about what to pack for China

What are the most important things to pack for China?

As well as your passport, money, cards, and phone, don’t forget to bring any medications you’re on as well as your accommodation written in Chinese characters.

Should I bring cash or cards to China?

It’s important to bring both. Have enough cash to last you at least a few days, then you can find an ATM. Debit cards are better than credit cards in China, as some places don’t accept credit cards.

Should I bring a camera to China?

China is a safe country, so it’s perfectly fine to bring your camera. But if you don’t mind lower quality photos, just take photos on your phone.

What shouldn’t I pack for China?

Some people bring a reusable drinking bottle to China, but it’s pointless really. Chinese tap water isn’t safe to drink, so you have to buy bottled water.