Packing List for Teaching in China

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When making a big move to another country, it can be hard to know what to pack so you’re not overdoing it. You also want to make sure you have essential items, the right amount of clothes and shoes, and everything else to make living abroad easier.

I’ve been in your shoes so I know how important it is to make sure you have everything you need.

This packing list for teaching in China will make sure you don’t forget a thing! From important documents to everyday items, I’ve got you covered. Let’s start packing!

Essential Items on Your Packing List for Teaching in China

Packing for a long-term move can get chaotic as you start sorting everything you own. However, these are the essential items you cannot forget on your packing list for teaching in China.

packing travel documents

Important Documents

Personal Documents: When you are moving to China to teach, your school will need some important documents from you. These may include a copy of your undergraduate transcripts or diploma, a teacher’s license or TEFL certificate, and your resume.

Once you have completed and passed your medical check-up, you’ll also need to bring all medical documents with you. Other personal documents that you can bring, but aren’t necessarily needed are your birth certificate and social security card for U.S. citizens.

Travel Documents: You’ll also need essential travel documents such as your passport and Z-visa so you can enter China with no issues. Once you land in China, you will apply for a residence permit with your Z-visa.

Credit Cards and Cash

Bring your debit card and a credit card with you if you have one. The Chase Sapphire is my favorite travel credit card and you can read all about it here.

If you don’t have a credit card, you’ll still want to bring your debit card as you can use it to make purchases during your travel and then once you get into China as well.

packing cash

Pro-tip: Call your bank and let them know that you will be moving to China for X years. Some banks may tell you that China is on their “red” list (or something similar) to where they aren’t able to put a travel note on your card, but you can still use it as usual. You’ll just need to make sure to keep track of your expenses.

For cash, you don’t need to bring a lot with you as you can use your cards to pay for things. However, for backup purposes, 2,000 RMB (or about $300) should be enough to get you started with groceries, essential items, and other purchases before you set up a Chinese bank account.

In terms of savings, you’ll want to have at least $700 to $1,000 for use before you get your first paycheck.

Plug types.svg
Yanpas, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Electronics and Technology

Laptop: I would highly recommend bringing your own laptop with you when you are packing to move to China even if your school is planning to give you one for work. Having your own laptop is great for entertainment while you’re on a long flight or trying to get through a layover.

But even more, you’ll want access to the internet the first night you get in to watch something familiar and you may not necessarily want to have your personal information on a work computer.

Phone: You can plan to buy a new phone when you get into China, but an unlocked smartphone may be a better option if you own one. You can purchase a Chinese SIM card within the first few days of living in China, which would provide you with a Chinese phone number and internet access. China doesn’t have providers such as T-Mobile or Verizon, so you will typically pay as you go or per month to refresh your data.

Adaptors: In China, you will find type A, C, and I plugs. When you are moving from the USA, most of your electronics chargers like phones, tablets, and laptops will fit into type A plugs. Small appliances such as a curling iron or straightener will also fit into type A without an adaptor.

For types C and I plugs, there are power strips you can purchase when in China to continue using type A plugs so you don’t need to purchase additional adaptors. For more detailed information, check out Electrical Safety First.

packing medication

Medication and Prescriptions

Over-the-counter medicine: There is a selected list of over-the-counter medicine when moving to China. This list includes, but isn’t limited to pain relievers (ibuprofen, Tylenol, etc.), antacids, diarrhea medication, sedatives, nose sprays, altitude/motion sickness medicine, and cough suppressant or drops.

You most likely won’t know what you’re looking for when you get sick in China at first, so I would highly recommend bringing what you use typically with you. For a full list, visit the CDC China Travel page.

Prescription medicine: After consulting with your doctor, ensure that you have enough prescription medicine to bring with you. If you are in a bigger city, such as Beijing or Shanghai, there’s a possibility your medication can be prescribed and picked up in China.

But ensure this is a possibility before leaving home. Some of these medication includes insulin, inhalers, epi-pens, and/or medical alert systems.

Contact lenses and glasses: There are eye doctors you can visit to give you an eye exam and provide you with a prescription to purchase contact lenses and glasses in China.

If you would rather bring contact lenses that you are familiar with, I would recommend bringing at least 6 months worth of contact lenses and your family can send more when you need them.

You could also bring enough to last you until the next time you return home to get more.

Clothing and Shoes on Your Packing List for Teaching in China

packing clothes

Clothing: One thing to keep in mind is that Chinese clothing sizes run smaller. You will find Western stores such as Old Navy, Zara, H&M, and Forever 21, but they are still catering to the Chinese population.

When you are packing your clothes for a big move to China, consider the clothes you’ll need in the classroom.

Err more on the professional teacher clothing such as slacks, nice shirts, cardigans, dresses, and possibly a business jacket for parent-teacher conferences.

Apart from professional clothing, pack everyday clothing as well including jackets, long-sleeved shirts, sweatpants, jeans, leggings, shorts, and shirts. You may also want to purchase your own undergarments such as bras and underwear as you might not find your size in China.

packing shoes

Shoes: The best advice I’ve ever received regarding packing shoes to China is: “If you can’t walk a mile in them, don’t bring them.”

This was such a true statement! In China, you will be walking a lot more than you usually would at home. You will be walking to your school, walking home, walking to the grocery store, walking to the bus stop, walking to the taxi, walking for a bag of sugar… so bring shoes that will last and won’t hurt your feet for all the walking you will be doing.

I highly recommend bringing flats for teaching and then possibly a pair of wedges for the times you need to dress up a little more (think parent-teacher conferences or new student orientation).

For all the walking you are going to do, you can bring easy slip-on shoes or running shoes for everyday wear. You could also bring a pair or two of boots since winters will most likely be cold.

Toiletries on Your Packing List for Teaching in China

Shampoo and Skin Care

Unless you have special shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, I would recommend purchasing larger bottles when you go shopping in China. They do have familiar drug store brands such as Pantene and Dove.

If you have a prescribed face wash like Curology, bring that as you most likely won’t find it in China. In fact, I would recommend bringing any type of facial skincare product as some Chinese products may have bleaching ingredients and you won’t know it unless you can read Mandarin.

packing shampoo

Makeup

Since you most likely have a favorite brand of makeup or a particular shade of foundation that matches your skin, bring enough to last you at least 6 months.

That would also give you plenty of time if you would like to experiment with the makeup brands in China. I personally have always brought makeup from the U.S. with me as I had trusted brands I enjoyed using and they didn’t take up much space in my luggage.

Feminine products

China has pads available for when you need them. However, if you are a tampon user, you would need to bring your own as they are very rare in China.

If you use other alternatives to pads such as the menstrual cup, you’ll most likely need to bring it from home. You may also want to bring your own deodorant as it may be hard to find in China.

Birth control

In China, birth control options are condoms and the pill. You are able to purchase the pill over-the-counter without a prescription (read this guide for more information).

However, if you would prefer to bring birth control pills that you are familiar with, ensure you have enough to last you until the next time you go home. Other birth control options such as Nexplannon and the IUD would last you enough years to get back home and get it replaced.

Classroom Items on Your Packing List for Teaching in China

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English books

Honestly, you will rarely find good English books in China. I would highly recommend bringing a box or small suitcase of your own favorite children’s books.

This will come in so handy when you are planning reading groups, whole group reading, or even quiet/library time. You will want to make sure you have high-quality English books on hand.

If your school is affiliated with your home country then there may be a partnership the school has set up. For example, my school was American based and students were able to order Scholastic books.

Teachers were also given a small fund to order their own classroom books too – this was so helpful!

Educational Textbooks

If you are like me where teaching in China was my first real teaching job, then you might be fresh out of college or have your educational training still on your mind. I know I did! And I showed that by bringing some of my favorite textbooks with me.

If you also have some favorites and you have the space/weight available, bring them with you because you may need to refer to them at some point. I would advise you to choose wisely as you don’t want to pay for overweight baggage!

Classroom Decorations

We all like our classrooms to be cute, trendy, and inviting! If you have a specific vibe, design eye, or products that you absolutely love then bring them! Some of these products might be borders for bulletin boards, sets of cute decor, or educational posters.

However, if you are open to (and if your school allows for it) digital downloads or printables, you can also purchase items from sites like Etsy or Teachers Pay Teachers. There are so many cute designs (pictured below), even better made educational posters, and more… you would be overwhelmed!

This option would save you some space in your luggage, but might cost you in prints if your school has a limit per teacher.

Teachers Pay Teachers classroom decor ideas
Samples of digital downloads you can purchase

Classroom supplies

You will be able to find most things in China. If you can’t find them in a physical store, you will be able to order them off Taobao, China’s version of Amazon. Anything you can imagine, it’s probably on there.

True story: one of my teacher friends ordered a hedgehog!

Items such as yarn, pom poms, educational puzzles, baskets, shelves, rugs, and more can be found in China. Again, if you have a favorite brand of school supply, you can choose to pack it.

My favorite things to pack every single time I came back home were Crayola markers and crayons. I just couldn’t find any markers in China that I absolutely love, so I made room for those.

Should You Add These to Your Packing List When Moving to China?

packing appliances

Small appliances

Small appliances aren’t necessary when packing to move to China. You can purchase coffee makers, electronic kettles, and other small appliances once you settle and decide what you need for your house.

Other considerations would be curling irons or straighteners. They do work with plugs in China so if you have your favorite tool, feel free to pack it with you.

Gaming systems and entertainment

If you have a PlayStation, Wii, or X-box you’d like to bring with you, there should be no issue using it as you can purchase an adaptor to hook up to your TV. You can also bring DVDs so you can watch your favorite films too.

However, if you are all about streaming, you’ll need a VPN so you can access sites such as Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and other streaming services.

My favorite VPN to use in China is Express VPN.

You certainly don’t need a gaming system to watch your favorite shows or movie as you can do everything from your laptop. But if you’d like to host a dance party or video game night, then make space to pack your gaming system with you when moving to China.

Click here to sign up for Express VPN!

packing pictures

Sentimental items

You are moving very far away from your family and friends. To help yourself when you feel homesick, bring some of your favorite photos and sentimental items with you. Personally, I brought a framed picture of my family, another of my friends, and a favorite book.

It is also very easy to digitize photos and then print them off when you get to China if you would prefer to save some space.

Food items

Sugar, flour, and other food items are available in China so you don’t need to pack them with you. However, there are specific items that you can bring if you’d like some familiar delights such as chocolate chips, baking powder, and special cooking spices.

I brought with me a bag of Hot Cheetos!

Items to Not Put on Your Packing List for Teaching in China

packing linens

Linens and towels

Bedsheets, pillowcases, pillows, blankets, and towels are easy to purchase when moving to China. To save space, don’t pack any linens or towels.

On the other hand, if you have a special blanket, quilt, or in my case towel and you are able to make room for it, bring it with you as a sentimental item.

Television and DVD player

Your furnished house should also come with a TV all hooked up and ready to go. You may need to set up internet and/or purchase a DVD player (I know, old school) when you arrive, just don’t bring a player from home when you move to China.

You can also purchase DVDs in China, though the shops may be harder to find. If you are planning on bringing your own films, you can play them on your laptop instead as DVDs have a “home” country that needs to be played on devices from the same “home” country.

Kitchen appliances

Depending on your teacher contract and your school, you should be provided with a furnished house, which usually comes with a refrigerator, microwave, and oven.

Even if your house doesn’t have these appliances, you can still purchase them when you get to China. Don’t pack these bulky items when moving to China.

packing all kitchen appliances

Cookware

Pots, pans, and dishes can be easily bought when you are settled in China and know what you need as well. If your company has a great hospitality team, they may even have a supply closet where you can choose pots, pans, and dishes to make do until you can purchase your own.

The same can be said for other kitchen items such as measuring cups/spoons, Tupperware, silverware, and fun kitchen gadgets.

However, if you have a special baking sheet that you’ve used forever and you’d like to bring it to make your deliciously well-known cookies, feel free to make some room for it in your luggage.

Stationery Items

China is full of stationery items like journals, folders, mesh bags, pens, pencils and so much more. You necessarily do not need to pack any stationery items for personal use or for your classroom as you can purchase them all in China.

They may look a little different than what you’re used to, but they will still get the job done – and you might even be able to use your school funds for them. Win-win!

How to Pack for Teaching in China

packing things

Most airlines will typically allow a personal bag, a carry-on bag, and 2 checked bags. Your personal bag and carry-on can be as heavy as you’d like as long as they fit within the set dimensions.

However, checked bags will need to be under 50 pounds and it doesn’t matter if it’s a suitcase or a storage bin. If you’d like to bring more, you would be paying for any extra bags.

Pro tip: make your personal bag the backpack or bag you will use for commuting to work. It’ll save space and be useful all at the same time!

Important Tips When Packing for Teaching in China

Buy decent bags: Pack using suitcases on the larger side. I usually recommend purchasing hard-side suitcases, but use soft-side suitcases when you are packing to move to China. This will help you expand your suitcase a little more than the hard side suitcases so you can pack it to the maximum size it can hold.

You’ll also want to make sure that it’s sturdy and has a 360° wheel spin. The wheels will make it easier to travel with and you don’t want to deal with a broken suitcase in the middle of your travels.

softside suitcases

Use vacuum bags: To maximize your space, use vacuum bags to pack your clothes and other cotton-based items like towels.

Weigh your bags: Before going to the airport, weigh your bags to ensure that they are under the 50-pound weight limit. You can get on your scale at home with your luggage or purchase a digital luggage scale. If your bags are over, you can re-distribute or follow the tip below.

Feel free to reduce your items: Always feel free to reduce the things you are packing. In regards to clothes, if you haven’t worn them in the last 6 months to a year, then you most likely won’t wear them when you move to China as well. If that’s the case, then don’t pack them with you.

Packing less Clothes

You can also practice the capsule wardrobe rule where you pack a staple number of clothing items and then supplemental pieces to create a certain number of outfits.

Keep in mind that you can purchase most items when you are living in China. Taobao, China’s version of Amazon, has everything you can imagine and more. So if the item isn’t necessary, you can leave it behind and purchase a new one when you settle into your new home.

Ship your bags: Shipping bags or boxes overseas can be very expensive. This should be your last resort if you need to bring more items than your free 2 checked bags. You can always compare if purchasing additional checked bags would be more cost-effective than shipping them over as well.

If your school is willing to pay for a certain amount of shipped items, then by all means, take advantage of this option.

shipping boxes

FAQs About Moving and Teaching in China

How do I get a visa for China?

Your employer will help you with this. In most cases, the school will need to provide you with a letter of invitation in order for you to apply for your visa. You’ll also need a notarized health report, and educational documents (like undergraduate transcripts, TEFL certifications, and/or teaching licenses).

Once you have prepared all these documents, you’ll send everything and your passport to the Chinese embassy closest to you.

What are the living conditions like for foreigners in China?

Again, this varies depending on where in China you live. In general, foreigners tend to live in nicer apartments than Chinese teachers.

You will likely have your own bedroom and bathroom with a shared kitchen and living room. Most apartments come furnished, so it’s important to ask your employer about this before you sign a contract.

What do English teachers wear in China?

This really varies from school to school. In most cases, you will need to wear professional and modest clothing such as slacks and a blouse or a dress for the ladies. Men can dress all the way up in a suit and tie or a button-down shirt and khakis.

It’s important to bring something overly professional, like a blazer, for special times such as new student orientation or parent-teacher conferences.

As the English teacher, you will be highly regarded so it’s important to dress the part!

Is there a demand for English teachers in China?

Yes, there is a great demand for English teachers in China! In recent years, the Chinese government has placed a large emphasis on improving English education in schools.

This has created many job opportunities for foreign English teachers. If you are a native English speaker with a bachelor’s degree, you should have no problem finding a teaching job in China. You can read more about the requirements needed to teach in China international schools here.

Final Thoughts on Your Packing List for Teaching in China

There you have it! Everything you need to have on your packing list for teaching in China. Be sure to share this post with your friends who are also planning a big move to China.

And finally, good luck with your move – I can’t wait to hear all about it!


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My Favorite Travel Tips + Resources

Here is a quick glance at all my go-to travel tips and resources that I use to plan every trip! For more information, check out my travel resources page.

  • Booking flights: I use Google Flights to check all routes and find the best flights. Then I compare them with Expedia (for reward points) and Skyscanner (for the lowest prices) before I book.
  • Accommodations: I love budget-friendly rentals or booking at a hotel where I can earn points. For hotels, I go through Booking.com or book directly with Marriott (for points + rewards). When I travel internationally, I’ll book through Hostelworld for very budget-friendly stays. For vacation rentals, I usually look through Airbnb, but you could also use Vrbo. Expedia also has some great bundles for hotels, flights, and car rentals altogether.
  • Transportation: For travel in the United States, I love renting through Expedia with Enterprise or Thrifty. They have been consistent and provide the best customer service. For international travel, I’ll book through Rome2Rio or Eurail for trains or bus fares.
  • Travel Credit Card: I book all my travel (flights, hotels, car rentals) through my favorite travel credit card. I also use this card for everything on my trip including dining, excursions, and souvenirs. Apart from earning 5x more points towards free travel, there are amazing benefits: no foreign transaction fees, trip cancellation/interruption insurance, trip delay reimbursement (so I can book worry-free), fraud protection, emergency assistance – it’s really a great deal! Check it out here!
  • Vaccines and Medications: Check the CDC website for updates on necessary vaccines to enter a country, including updates on Covid-19 and recommended places to visit. I recommend getting all the vaccines you need before you go!
  • Tours + Experiences: I absolutely love my tours! Everything from eerie walking ghost tours to food tours, I’ll usually book something every trip either through Viator or GetYourGuide. I also love LastMinute.com for very affordable tickets to theaters and other experiences in Europe.
  • What to Pack: I almost always travel by backpack. For products I like, check out my packing guide page for all the things I take with me on different trips.