It’s a big and frequently asked question – what do I need to pack to teach in China? For those teachers heading out to China for the first time, it can seem a bit daunting to pack your life in to 20kg! Here I consider some of the essential items to pack, things to avoid taking, and give some top tips based on my own experiences…
Documents – these are vital!
Packing your notarized and authenticated documents is essential, this means making sure you have your authenticated bachelor’s certificate, police check and TEFL/TESOL certificate packed up and in a safe place (consider taking them in an unbendable folder in your hand luggage).
Remember, as well, to take your original bachelor’s certificate and TEFL/ TESOL certificate. A mistake many teachers make is to take their authenticated copies of these documents and leave the originals at home. Believe me, the Chinese Immigration Authorities need the original documents too, heading to China without both will cause delays, frustration and needless expenditure.
Copies of your passport, international insurance policy, credit/ debit card and at least 6 passport photos will also come in handy.
If you take medication then it’s advisable to try to get a 12-month supply, with an accompanying doctor’s note. If this is not possible, take at least a few months’ supply and arrange a prescription showing dosage and other key details. Most medication can be found in international clinics with the help of a Chinese friend, so don’t worry too much about not having access.
It’s also a good idea to pack standard painkillers, cough medicine, band-aids etc, to save having to navigate a Chinese pharmacy within your first weeks of arrival.
Research the climate in your city of work – and pack accordingly
It sounds obvious, but look up what the weather will be like at different times of the year in the city you’ll be heading to, and pack clothes that are suitable. There’s no point packing a big winter coat if you are living in the tropics of Shenzhen, however you would be lost without it during a Beijing Winter!
Regardless of city, many schools and apartments do not have central heating/ air-con, so layers are a good idea. If you’re a woman sized under UK12/ US16 then finding clothes to fit in China will be no issue, again if you’re a man under 5’11 the same applies – however if this isn’t you (like me!) then it’s best to bring all the clothing and underwear you might need.
When considering what to wear while teaching, this will depend on your school. Kindergarten and language school teachers often wear a branded shirt and are quite casual, whereas university and public-school teachers are usually expected to wear a shirt and trousers. It goes without saying that clothing should be conservative and in keeping with the ethos of the school. If in doubt, ask your Coordinator or your point of contact at the school to advise. You can also print out our suggested packing list.
Pack a good pair of shoes and a work bag
Teaching involves being on your feet a lot, so a sensible pair of shoes (for the climate) will be essential – it’s not a fashion parade, so pick wisely. Equally, many teachers forget to bring a sturdy school bag for books/ folder/ resources/ laptop, so it’s worth taking one with you.
Sanitary Products and Birth Control
There are many differences in culture between Western Countries and China. Some of these become most stark and apparent when it comes to sanitary products, particularly for women.
Spray-on deodorant is not commonly used in China by either men or women, and is therefore (although relatively easy to find) priced at a premium. So think about packing a few cans of your favourite scent in your check-in luggage before leaving.
Tampons are not commonly used in China and can be scarce and jaw-droppingly expensive in China, so stock-up before you leave.
Birth control (the pill) is not quite as straightforward to get in China, as again, it is not used as commonly. Stock up beforehand to best ensure you have a sense of regularity.
Unlocked Phone and a Portable Charger
Before you leave home, make sure your phone is unlocked so you can transfer a Chinese SIM into it once you arrive. Google your local area for the nearest store that can provide this service. You’ll often find the vast majority of independent mobile and electrical repair stores offer this as a standard service.
Additionally, ensure that you have any and all VPN software installed on your mobile before you leave for China, if you want to get around China’s Great Firewall and access apps for services like Facebook, Gmail, Instagram and Twitter that is.
You’ll notice very quickly that the Chinese are constantly glued to their phones. With the pace and nature of life and work in China, you will find that you too will be using your phone constantly, so will be leaking battery faster than ever before. Make sure you pack a compatible Portable Charger for this reason!
Space won’t allow you to go too crazy with this, but some people like to take a duvet or pillow cover, blanket, and photographs of loved ones – to make their apartment feel homely. If there’s a particular brand of chocolate or ketchup you can’t live without, pop some of that in your luggage too!
Check your airline’s luggage allowance – and weigh your case before going to the airport
It sounds so obvious, but check what your luggage allowance weight is, as it can vary between 20kg and 30kg as standard depending on the airline – you’d be pretty gutted to check in and find you could have packed an additional 5kg! Also remember to weigh your case, as excess baggage charges can be steep.
What not to pack…
There are certain items I wish someone had flagged to me that I really didn’t need to take, and would have made room for other more useful things. First up on this list would be a towel, as you can pick one up immediately on arrival. Another point would be to not go OTT on the toiletries – pack favourites and miniatures, but generic shower gel and soap can be bought very cheaply anywhere. Also be sensible with clothes – if you’ve not worn something in your home country for a while, it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself wearing it often in China