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What to Pack

A helpful, downloadable packing list for your move to Shanghai!


Ronni Rowland

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So you're moving to Shanghai? Let us be one of the first to welcome you! Here is a helpful packing list...and links to past related help you plan ahead for your move.

by Ronni Rowland

Prior to my family's move here a year ago, a friend forwarded me the following packing list from her expat buddy in Shanghai.

I have to admit I didn't pay much attention to the list. I hard can it be to find underwear in a city of 23 million people? Well, let me just say that during our recent summer visit back to the USA, that's exactly what we bought. (It turns out that sizing runs small and can be difficult to "eyeball" in the middle of Carrefour, something no teenage daughter wants to do!)

It's also possible that your air freight shipment won't be delivered for at least a month to six weeks after your arrival (even though you've planned ahead!), so make sure you pack enough personal items in your luggage for the duration.

Personal Items

  • A year’s worth of ALL prescriptions used regularly Carry on board.
  • Cipro antibiotic for adults; Zithromax for kids  (in case of food/water sickness) Carry on board.
  • OTC items you use regularly—Tylenol, Motrin, Contact, cold medicine, cough syrup, Nyquil, meds for Sinus Headache (i.e. Tylenol Sinus), triple anti-biotic ointment, allergy medication, Benedryl, cold sore medication, athlete’s foot powder, insect repellant, sunscreen, Vaseline, cotton balls —any and all you can think of.  This stuff is very hard to find here, and if you can find it, it’s outrageously expensive.  Carry enough over with you to last 2 months in case your shipment is delayed).
  • My note: Pet medications (especially if you don't have a driver and you have a big dog, bring a supply of antibiotics or other medications from your current vet)
  • Deodorant (bring a year’s worth for everyone) My note: This is true! I could only find gummy...and expensive...roll-on types.
  • Make-up (if you wear a special brand; it’s expensive here and selection is limited)
  • Toothpaste (a year’s worth for everyone). Chinese flavors are not very palatable.
  • Toothbrushes for a year (quality of local brand is not good...My note: This is true...bristles fall out easily, especially for braces-wearing kids)
  • Dental floss for a year
  • Favorite brand of hairspray and shampoo/conditioner
  • Q-tips
  • My note: Razors (razor re-fills are nearly impossible to find)
  • Aftershave/shaving tonic for men 
  • Bar soap (a year’s supply if you have a special brand).You can get soap here.
  • A full year of underwear for everyone
  • A full year of socks for everyone
  • Nylons (if you’re larger than a size 6)
  • Bathing suits for everyone
  • Favorite brand of blue jeans (My note: if you go to the Levi's store, you'll pay $125-200 per pair! Gap is expensive too!)
  • Men’s shoes (if larger than a size 10)
  • Women’s shoes (if larger than a size 7)
  • Bath towels (it’s hard to find nice quality towels here) My note: IKEA has good-quality towels.
  • Favorite winter items (hats, gloves, etc.)
  • Battery powered alarm clocks

If you have a favorite hairdryer or curling iron or electric rollers, etc., you will need to get a transformer for them to work here (to go from 220V to 110V). My note: Carrefour carries hair dryers, flat irons, etc.


  • Silverware (the silverware you buy here rusts) My note: I've had no trouble with the silverware I bought at IKEA.
  • Serving spoons (same problem)
  • Pyrex dishes (outrageously expensive here if you can find any)
  • Salad spinner (all lettuce must be thoroughly washed with special soap) My note: I buy pre-washed, bagged salad and haven't had any trouble.
  • Any special pots, pans, unique items you particularly like


(You can buy pots and pans here, but the sizes and materials vary.)

  • Pot holders (the ones here are too big to work with—most Chinese have no oven)
  • Chocolate chips (My note: You can find them at Western grocers like City Shop but are very expensive)
  • Specialty spices you use frequently (i.e. Montreal Steak Seasoning, taco seasoning) My note: Carrefour and other Western grocers carry a decent variety of basic spices.
  • Packaged mixes you use frequently (i.e. pesto mix, Sloppy Joe mix, salad dressing,  etc.)
  • Bouillon cubes (the ones here are gigantic and quite weak)
  • Chicken noodle soup or other soup you eat frequently (selection here is very limited) 
  • Christmas cookie cutters and any special ingredients/seasonings for traditional family holiday cooking (i.e. cardamom, colored sugars, etc.) My note: City Shop carries "sprinkles" and other "decorations" for baking, but you guessed it, they are expensive.
  • Tupperware you like (you can get plastic storage items here)
  • Zip-loc bags
  • Muffin tins (and liners), cake pans, measuring spoons, measuring cups 
  • Favorite brand of coffee (coffee selection is very limited, but you can buy Starbucks)
  • Favorite cookbooks

My note: Any electric appliances brought from home will require a transformer to use. You may want to just buy them here, although they are expensive (but so are transformers). My crockpot is invaluable!


  • The beds here are unbelievably hard. We suggest buying a foam pad for every bed. You can buy them in Shanghai at Carrefour or IKEA.
  • Favorite pillows (My note: IKEA has plenty of pillow types.)
  • Favorite blankets
  • Fitted sheets (My note: IKEA has fitted sheets, but we don't even use fitted sheets anymore...we had a person in a local market sew sheets, and a "straight sheet" instead of a fitted sheet works fine. It was cheaper and fun for the kids to select their own fabric!)
  • Battery powered alarm clocks or clock radio with 220v capability (My note: We use phone alarms.)

Family Room/Living Room

  • Electronics (you can buy electronics here, but they are just as expensive)
  • Transformers for any electronics you bring
  • Computer—make sure you know exactly how to bring your computer up to 220V. Some have switches on the back; others require transformers. Check this out before you pack.

Office and school supplies and other miscellaneous stuff: 

  • ScotchTape (tape here is yucky)
  • Index cards --(can’t find them here, good for school and use in learning Mandarin)
  • Extra ink cartridges for your printer (if you bring one)
  • Goo Gone (the glue they use on price stickers here is almost impossible to remove) My note: Mr. Muscle works fine.
  • Hand Sanitizer (small bottles to carry with you)
  • Gift wrap paper (very hard to find here) and ribbon
  • My note: Graph paper for school, unless you want to print it out. You can find gridded paper but only in odd sizes.
  • My note: Notebook paper (can't find in a "traditional" size)
  • My note: Spiral-bound notebooks
  • Link to past article: Back-to-school Essentials


My note: My teen daughters and I have been happy with the selection of books at the Shanghai Foreign Languages Bookstore on 390 Fuzhou Road (children and young adult books are on the 4th floor). Staff are willing to help search for books in-store and on the computer.

  1. If you like to read, pack a large selection of books.
  2. Buy your China travel books in the States before you come. Selection here is very limited and expensive.
  3. Buy a pocket or purse sized Mandarin/English translation book for each adult before you come. You will use it daily. Even if you can’t speak the language, you can show the person the word or phrase in the book. Make sure the book has the word/phrase in Chinese characters, Chinese pinyin (English spelling of the Chinese characters), English and ideally, an English phonetic pronunciation.
  4. Subscribe to any magazines you want before you go and give them your P.O. Box address.


  • Tool kit for those day-to-day repairs at house; for bikes, etc. (My note: There are a bunch of "mom and pop" hardware stores that carry basic tools on nearly any street. You'll need to have a little list in Chinese, though. For a truly Chinese experience, take a walk down Beijing Road where you'll really find some interesting tools!)
  • Special Christmas decorations; Christmas music (My note: IKEA and Carrefour carry basic holiday decorations, including Halloween!)
  • CDs and DVDs from home

What to carry on-board with you:

  • Passports
  • Copy of passports
  • Bring at least 10 passport size photos for each person. (The government often changes requirements and not having one can stall the process unnecessarily).
  • All prescriptions
  • Marriage license (My note: Needed for setting up bank accounts.)
  • Birth certificates (My note: Needed for setting up bank accounts.)
  • Copy of college diplomas
  • Mandarin/English books
  • Jewelry
  • Ipods, cameras, laptops, anything you wouldn’t want stolen

What to have in checked luggage:

  • Clothes, underwear, shoes, socks, etc. to last six weeks
  • Towels, toiletries and OTC items to last six weeks
  • Plastic plates, some silverware, a few hard plastic cups, etc. to get you through until you can buy some or your shipment arrives.
  • Any special personal items you bring (framed photos, etc.) but couldn’t bear to lose.

Here's another packing list from a past reader, which also includes sports items and other unique information.

Print the List: Want the list in a printable, easy-to-use format? Download the PDF!

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