Before coming to China, I had a rough idea about what I should pack. Now that I have been living in China for a couple of months, there are definitely some things that I wish I packed more of or wish I had brought with me. So I decided to pass on this knowledge to you all – just in case you ever decide to study or travel in China.
- International bank account. It’s nice to have a bank that doesn’t charge you a fee every time you take out money from the ATM. Fees can add up quickly, especially if you are going to be living abroad for a long period of time. I have a bank called Charles Schwab. In addition to not being charged a fee every time I take out money, I can update my travel status online, and also call them through Skype in case I have any questions or problems.
- An unlocked phone. I came to China thinking my phone was already unlocked, but to my disappointment it wasn’t. So make sure you check with your cell phone provider that it’s unlocked! You have to unlock your phone in order to insert a SIM card and obtain a Chinese cell phone number. You will need a Chinese telephone number, for things such as opening a bank account in China (my school requires that you have a Chinese Bank Account) and completing important paperwork you do here. But just in case you end up like me, without an unlocked phone, then you could just buy a new, cheaper cell phone for the Chinese number and use wifi to communicate with others back home.
- Virtual Private Network (VPN). If you want to access websites or apps that you commonly use in your country, such as Facebook or Instagram, buying a VPN is a good investment to make. I decided to wait until I was in China to buy a VPN. However, here in China, you have to use a VPN to purchase your VPN. I would recommend buying a VPN in your home country, since it’ll save you the trouble of looking for an internet network that already uses VPN. Luckily for me, my school had a wifi network in the library that used VPN, so I was able to purchase it there. But be warned, not all VPNs work well, so do some research on the quality of the VPN before purchasing it. The VPN I use is called ExpressVPN, and it works well most of the time.
- Hygiene and beauty products. Deodorant, floss, toothpaste, mouthwash, body soap, make-up and anything you use on a daily basis are things you should consider packing – especially if you are a bit selective about the brands of products you use. Although you can find most of these products in China, they may not be as effective as your usual products. Nevertheless, if you end up not packing these things, then there are some stores in China, such as Watsons, where you can find many of these imported products, but they are more expensive.
- Important documents. You should take all of your important documents with you and make sure you keep copies of these documents in a separate place, just in case you lose them. This may sound very obvious but I knew a couple of students in the beginning of the year that were sent back to their countries to retrieve the paperwork they didn’t have with them. It’s a good idea to double check that you have all of your important documents with you before leaving. Also keep in mind that when you are applying for your visa, make sure you keep ALL of the papers you are given and take them along with you, with copies! It’s also very helpful to bring lots of passport photos with you (I got my passport pictures at CVS). You are going to be asked for these pictures a lot when you are doing paperwork in China.
- Medicines and vitamins. Pack antibiotic cream, pills and daily vitamins. Although you can buy these things in China, they can be more expensive and medicines, such as antibiotics, can be less effective. It’s a good idea to have these medicines readily available for your use, just in case you ever get food poisoning or travelers’ diarrhea.
- Clothing. Pack plentiful underwear, bras and shoes. Keep in mind, when you come to China sizes are a lot smaller than you are used to. I am usually a size 7 for shoes in the US, but here I use a size 8. The biggest size I’ve seen so far for women shoes have been an eight (I’m not sure about men’s shoe sizes). One of my friends just buys men shoes, since she can’t find her size in women’s shoes anywhere (she is size 9).
Well, I hope this list is helpful if you’re planning a trip abroad! Until next time!
Sara Torres-Robles is earning a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at San Diego State University. She is video blogging from Xiamen, China for the 2015-2016 academic year.