Traveling to China soon? Here’s what not to bring!

When you travel abroad, it’s tempting to fill your suitcase to the brim.

But there are numerous things you shouldn’t bother packing. This is especially the case for China.

So, save your back and stay under your luggage allowance by leaving some of these items at home. You probably won’t need them, and if you do, you can always buy them there.

I’ll start with the formally banned items before jumping into what I think you shouldn’t bring, based on my travels in China.

Ok, here’s what not to bring to 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 dump them in the airport bins.

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Animal products including meat and seafood
  • Dairy including fresh milk, eggs, cheese, butter and cream
  • Fats and oils.

In addition, you shouldn’t bring any food that has come from an epidemic stricken area, is harmful to people or might spread disease.

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If in doubt, throw it out!

2. Other contraband

You’d be pretty silly to try and bring in contraband items as set out by Chinese Customs.

This includes things like:

  • Animals (except your pet dog or cat)
  • Plants and soil
  • Guns, ammo and explosives
  • Addictive drugs
  • More than RMB 20,000 (US $5,000 or equivalent)
  • Any media items containing information detrimental to China.

These are pretty obvious things.

The only one that needs calling out is the last one. Examples include large quantities of brochures to spread your religion in China, or a suitcase full of porn videos.

Don't bring drugs to China

Don’t bring illicit drugs to China.

Attitudes towards sex, drugs, religion and politics are very different in China.

I talk more about political information further down.

3. Delicate clothes

OK, now for the fun stuff!

You want to look your best during your trip to China and that’s understandable.

But if the only way you can look your best is by wearing a special, hand-wash only silk shirt, then be prepared to come home without it.

China tends to be hard on delicate clothes, especially when you’re traveling.

You’ll be eating with chopsticks, which means that spills are much more likely if you aren’t used to them.

Delicate silk shirt

Clothes like this will get wrecked in China.

If you’re in China for the long term (such as teaching English), the air pollution is a problem too because it tends to be damaging to delicate fabrics.

And finally, Chinese washing machines tend to be hard on clothes. So, if you need to get your delicate items washed, there’s every chance they’ll end up stretched or otherwise ruined.

Clothes can be a delicate balance when you’re in China. You’ll need to dress nicely on occasion, just do it without your delicate items.

4. Jeans

Jeans might seem like the ideal clothing item when you’re in China. They go with everything, they’re tough enough to stand up to any punishment, and they look good.

But they can be incredibly frustrating when you travel to China.

Jeans take up a lot of room in your suitcase, because they don’t pack down. And even more annoyingly, they’re hard to clean and dry.

Person wearing jeans with feet on suitcase

If you do bring jeans, wear them on your flight so they don’t take up space in your suitcase.

Cities in southern China are extremely humid. This means that when you hang up your wet jeans, they’ll still be wet three days later!

The water in the air makes drying denim impossible. So, take pants made of fabrics that will dry fast, even in humid climates.

Don’t get me wrong – jeans are good for the Chinese winter. But if you do bring jeans, just bring one pair.

And, wear them on the plane so you’ll have more room in your suitcase.

5. Shoes that aren’t made for walking

Your shoes are a big deal when you travel to China. You’ll be walking a lot and on a range of different surfaces.

Within one neighborhood in a city you’ll experience everything from smooth roads to cracked, uneven pavements and potholes.

So, if you want to be comfortable and avoid blisters and aching feet, leave your high heels or stiff dress shoes at home.

Do not bring high heels to China

Leave your pretty heels at home.

All they’ll do is make you more likely to trip over. And you’ll probably spend most of your visit complaining about how much your feet hurt.

This goes for flip flops as well. They’re good for short walks, but any longer and they’ll damage your feet.

Plus, streets can be pretty dirty in China. After walking a few blocks your feet will get covered in filth.

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If you’re traveling to China on business, you might need to wear dress shoes. Try to choose options that won’t leave you in pain or flat on your face.

For women, go for low heels with a solid, non-slippery base. And for men, choose comfortable shoes with a non-slip sole. And then get out of these shoes as soon as you can and put on something you can walk in.

6. Expensive jewelry

Just don’t.

You might love your jewelry; it might be the ideal way to finish off a favorite outfit. But it’s really not worth the trouble.

China is a safe country to travel in, particularly for tourists. But it’s still best to be cautious when you’re outside your comfort zone.

Expensive ring

Worried about your precious ring? Don’t bring it to China.

You will already stand out when you travel to China, particularly if you’re going outside of the main cities like Shanghai or Beijing.

Wearing expensive jewelry will only attract more attention. And chances are that it won’t be the kind of attention you’re looking for.

7. Politically sensitive material

This definitely needs to go on your ‘what not to bring to China’ list.

China has strict laws about censorship and propaganda. Even the internet in China is censored (you can read more about that here).

You might not agree with the laws, but when you’re traveling, it isn’t your place to complain.

You definitely don’t want to be the person who has to explain why you’re carrying books about the Tiananmen Square massacre.

It can be hard to tell what would be considered taboo or prohibited by the Chinese culture or government. And it’s best not to find out for sure during your trip.

Don't bring politically sensitive material to China

President of China, Xi Jinping.

So, if you have anything that could be considered politically sensitive, leave it at home. This can include patches on your bags as well as books and other controversial materials.

8. A money belt

Do people still travel with money belts? They’re still being sold, so some people must!

Leave your money belt behind when you travel to China because you won’t need it. ATMs are everywhere, so it’s better to take out small amounts of money when you need it.

This is far safer than traveling with a huge wad of cash that just begs other people to take it.

Don't bring a money belt to China

Money belts are not worth the hassle.

You could also download a payment app like Alipay, and pay for things with your phone like the locals do.

There are other problems with wearing a money belt. It looks bulky under clothes and pretty much advertises that you’re carrying something worth stealing.

It can also rub and chafe, particularly in hot or humid weather. So, if you don’t want to go home with a rash, find another way to secure your money.

9. Bikinis

This one is for the foreign women in China.

If you’re planning to visit somewhere near a beach or want to go swimming in the hotel pool, do not pack your bikini.

Chinese women don’t wear bikinis. In fact, young and older women in China wear one-piece bathing suits that have a little skirt around the waist.

This can look a little strange to Westerners, but it’s completely normal in China.

Typical packed Chinese beach

You’d be hard-pressed to find a Chinese woman wearing a bikini.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t wear a bikini in China. But you’ll stand out and men will probably leer at you, and this is why the bikini has made it onto a what not to wear in China list.

It’s far easier to blend in with the crowd and dress like the locals.

10. Expensive electronics

This can apply to any type of expensive electronics you enjoy using, from that bulky DSLR camera to the latest iPad tablet.

When you travel, you want to go light, so really think about what you’re taking with you.

Don’t take your laptop if all you need it for is chatting with friends on Facebook.

And, unless you’re a professional photographer, leave your expensive camera behind. It will save you worrying about theft when you’re on bus rides and it means there’s no chance it will get crushed or broken inside your baggage.

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This is obviously a very individual tip. If you’re a blogger, you might need your laptop. If you like to watch movies or read, a tablet might be a necessity.

The key is to look at what you need your electronics for and to choose the lightest, easiest option.

Smartphones can be used for everything these days, from taking pictures to watching movies and reading.

Expensive electronics laptop and tablet

Bring only the electronics you need.

So, unless you absolutely need other electronic items, leave them safe at home.

Tip: If you want to watch Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime using your hotel’s Wi-Fi, or even access Google or Instagram, you’ll need a VPN app. Make sure you download it before you arrive, otherwise you won’t have access.

Read this review on the best VPN for China as some don’t work there.

11. Too many clothes

When you travel to China, you want to be able to explore.

This means you’ll need to be able to cart your suitcase or backpack onto buses and trains and generally drag it around with you.

Unless you’re really strong, this is much easier if your suitcase is relatively light. This means you need to pack light.

You won’t need as many clothes in China as you think. You’ll be able to wash and dry clothes during your trip fairly easily.

Laundry services are offered by most hotels (some can be expensive) or if you get directions you’ll be able to find a private laundry.

You can also hand-wash your clothes in your hotel basin.

Man carrying a suitcase

Try to pack light for China.

If you need a specific clothing item, you’ll probably be able to buy it during your travels.

Chinese cities offer a huge range of clothing options. You’ll only have a problem with this if you’re really tall or large.

The clothing sizes in China tend to be smaller than in Western countries. You should still be able to find larger sizes, it will just take a little more work.

So, what should I bring to China?

Now that you know what you shouldn’t bring to China, what are the things you should bring along?

Well, China has different electrical sockets, so an international power adapter is one of the most important things if you want to stay connected on your travels.

But I won’t steal blogger Mike’s thunder – you can find out exactly what to bring to China here. Or, if you have time on your hands, check out the in-depth China packing list which covers every minute detail.

Enjoy your trip to China

Packing for a trip should be a time of anticipation and excitement.

You want to keep your suitcase under the weight limit as well as keep some room for some cool Chinese souvenirs (like these ones).

The main thing to remember is not to bring any of the banned items, or you may get in trouble.

If you happen to under-pack or forget something, you’ll probably be able to buy it in China. And if you can’t, chances are you’ll find a reasonable substitute.

So, instead of worrying, just enjoy the idea of your upcoming trip. And don’t forget your VPN!

Did you like my article on what not to bring to China? Leave a comment if you have any extra things to add. Now, find out what not to do while you’re in China. It’s great for tourists.