The top cities are similar to Beijing, where my post focuses on. Second tier and smaller cities provide less access to Western items. This post highlights some things that are common in the US and other western countries but harder to get in Beijing (see also my post on shopping in Beijing).
What things are difficult to get in Beijing?
As you are packing your bags for moving to China, you may want to bring extra supply of items that are difficult to get here. Even though Beijing has many Western stores and supermarkets, there are some items that are a bit harder to find. In some cases, only a few brands are available and/or the price is twice as high as back home.
I’m sure every Beijing expat has their own list of things they import from their home countries. My list has grown over the last 2 years and includes some common items and probably a couple items that seem strange to some people. I also included things I heard from other foreigners. Here it is:
- Your favorite deodorant – Western stores carry some brands but not many, local stores don’t sell it. While local people do sweat like everyone else, they typically don’t smell; must be something in the food?
- Body lotion – it gets really dry in Beijing in winter
- Face cream – most Chinese facial products contain whiteners as pale skin is the beauty ideal (see also 10 Things I learned about the Chinese)
- Cosmetics – While almost all brands are available, the color palette is focused on the Asian type with pale skin and dark hair.
- Skin care in general – Most foreign women I know, and even many guys, bring all their personal care supplies from abroad
- Q-tips – You can buy them here, but the quality is just not the same
- Grape Jelly – for PB&J if you are a purist – you can buy Peanut Butter and jams but no real grape jelly
- Coffee, we bring it ground for our French press – you can buy coffee beans at Starbucks and Western supermarkets but maybe not your favorite brand and usually no decaf; coffee is expensive here, about 15 USD for half a pound of Starbucks beans (French press coffee makers are available at some Starbucks and in markets geared towards expats)
- Enough shoes and warm insoles for winter if you have big feet (my husband wears shoe size 11½)
- Hair coloring supplies if you color your hair yourself and your base color is not black
- Over the counter medication, e.g. Sudafed, cold meds (many OTC products are available here in Western clinics but some seem not to work as well, see also my post on healthcare)
- Favorite spices and dried herbs – you can get some very common spices in Western supermarkets but some specialty items are harder to find, or not very fresh
- Seeds for kitchen herbs, e.g., it is difficult to buy Thai basil here, even regular basil requires a track to a Western market and some luck
- Favorite snacks (for us that includes low-salt peanuts and chocolate-covered raisins from Trader Joes, Biscotti from Costco, …., you see where I am going with this. Big brand name snacks and sweets are usually easy to get here.)
- Brita water filters – with luck you can find them here in Western stores but they are really expensive
Keeping your own list makes it easier when you plan trips back home or have visitors coming from your home country.
More to consider when bringing stuff
China has some different standards or sizes for household items so some things from the US may not work here.
Electricity is 220V/50Hz, so most US appliances won’t work. Standard outlets accept US two-prong flat and European two-prong round (Schuko) plugs as well as Chinese three-prong plugs but not the US three-prong plug, which is common on some computer power cords. (I use a US-to-European plug converter on mine, so I can plug the European Schuko plug into the Chinese outlet.) Bringing any appliances is much easier for Europeans.
Mattress sizes are different and US size bed linen may not fit. Typical bed sizes are 200×90 cm for a single and 200×180 cm for double. I know, sizes in cm don’t mean much to most Americans. You can use an online converter or check the IKEA US website for mattress and other bedding sizes in cm and compare to IKEA China products.
If there are things you wish you brought or keep bringing from trips home, please share in the comments below. Please also include those items you wish you hadn’t bothered bringing when moving to China.
PS: If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out my Practical Guide – Newcomer to Beijing. It contains this post and 30+ others, plus additional resources, and follows your steps from planning your move to a new culture to settling into your new expat life in Beijing, all in one easy-to-read pdf.