When my family moved to China, we packed 6 suitcases full of stuff. We had looked up everything that we thought would be difficult to obtain in China and wanted to be prepared! But once we got here, I realized that we definitely overdid it. This post is also meant to break the news gently about some items you may have to learn to live without. I wish I could say getting these items is to simply order them from your native country, but I have been informed that a foreigner can’t shop overseas. I am writing this post to help others moving to China to better understand what Western items are available in Beijing! To make it easier, I created a list separated into three categories: Easy to find, Difficult, and IMPOSSIBLE. I did not include internet shopping on this list, mostly because I don’t use internet shopping much. Also, Beijing has many more options and items available than smaller cities, so be aware this is not a list for all parts of China!
EASY TO FIND ITEMS
There were quite a few items available easily in Beijing that I thought I had to stock up before I left the states. If I had know this before, I could have saved myself some luggage space and fees! I will order these items into categories to make it a little easier! This category is for items you can find in pretty much any grocery/box store.
FOOD– I was a little concerned that we would not be able to find some of the Western snacks that we were accustomed to. I quickly found that many of our Western snack brands were available in Beijing stores! Please excuse the fact that the list is mostly junk food. I am an American after all and we are talking necessities.
- Oreo brand: You can find everything here from the Oreo brand, including items that I never saw in the states. There are the cookies, ice cream, candy bards, etc. Basically, you will be fine.
- Doritos: I have found the cheese flavored and the cool ranch, though the bag sizes are considerably smaller than the states.
- Cheetos: There are a TON of Cheeto types in Beijing…but unfortunately not the original flavor. All you can find are the best sellers here, some examples include prawn and tomato.
- Candy: You can find almost all of the Western candy brands here. M&Ms, Hershey, Dove is huge here, and Kit Kats.
- Chips Ahoy: They taste different here but they are still here. Other chocolate chip items are not common, so you will have to get used to it!
- Ritz: Crackers are VERY common here. There are also off-brands with the cheese and peanut butter in it.
- Pringles and Lays: Do not worry about your potato chip fix! They have the original flavor and a ton of other crazy flavors like cucumber. There aren’t really too many other types though, so if these chips aren’t your style then you may have to find an alternative.
- Coke, Sprite, Pepsi, Gatorade: All here and all CHEAP! You can buy a 2 liter bottle of Coke for less than a dollar.
- Peanut butter and nutella: I was surprised by this, but they are common enough to be in almost every grocery store. Although some only have generic brands.
- Bimbo snacks: Although Mexican snacks are not common, Bimbo items are easily found in grocery stores and come in an array of familiar and unfamiliar flavors.
- Pasta: Italian pasta and sauces are not hard to obtain at all. You can also find garlic bread in the bakeries easily!
- Tuna: I was pretty shocked on this one! Although canned items aren’t popular in China, it is almost guaranteed that you can find canned tuna.
- Meats: There is no trouble finding hot dogs, sausages, bacon, sliced ham, etc. Jerky is also available but like the states, expensive.
Toiletries– I brought WAY too many toiletries in preparing for China. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get my preferred brands and brought things I could get cheaper here.
- Toothpaste: I brought three different tubes for the family and I feel so silly for doing so. They have all of the big brands including Crest and Sensodyne! Cheaper, too.
- Shampoo and Conditioner: I am so embarrassed by how much I brought with me, that I will just gloss over it. They have literally ALL the name brands I normally use! Head and Shoulders, Dove, Pantene, VS, Rejoice, Lux, etc. You will need a translation app on your phone though to know what you are actually buying.
- Toothbrushes: I don’t know why I brought any. They are everywhere, even the Oral-B electric ones.
- Women’s Sanitary Napkins: Aisles and aisles of them. Almost like a horror movie.
- Hair dryers/straighteners: Don’t bring from home! Save your adapters from short-circuiting and buy them here. You may have to search a specialty store for the straighteners, but they are available!
Clothing– When packing clothing, we literally packed clothes for all four seasons. This was mostly out of concern that we would not be able to find clothing in our sizes (as we are a little bigger than the typical Chinese customer).
- Kids clothes: Shopping for Calvin has been no problem at all. We are able to find everything in his sizes and with better prices.
- Winter jackets: Although China doesn’t have a lot in the way of sweaters, winter jackers are everywhere. They are big, warm, and CHEAP. I bought a wonderfully warm and cozy winter jacket for 99 rmb ($13.95). The one I brought here was $120 Columbia jacket. Yeah, barely wore it.
- Name brands: The malls have PLENTY of the brands you are familiar with. Including Nike, Adidas, Columbia, Victoria’s Secret, Puma, Under Armor, Converse, GAP, Sketcher’s, Levi’s, etc. Keep in mind that they will be more expensive than Chinese versions but are available.
Household Items– Even though I obviously wasn’t packing these items, I felt I should mention these items in our list!
- Furniture: Don’t worry about finding anything like bookshelves, beds, etc. Most houses are furnished when you rent them. If you find yourself needing something extra though, they have several IKEAs in Beijing! Keep in mind that the smaller ones don’t have nearly as large a selection as the large ones.
- Toaster ovens/microwaves: Not all apartments come with a microwave and almost NONE come with any sort of oven. However, it is extremely easy to go to the mall and pick up one of these items if you need it.
- Fans/Humidifiers: Once again, sometimes the apartment you rent may or may not have these items available. If needed, it is no problem to grab one cheaply compared to the states.
- Tupperware: You can find many plastic Tupperware sets at the big box stores!
Miscellaneous– Things I couldn’t fit under the other lists!
- Alcohol: It is not difficult to find familiar beers and spirits in Beijing. You can find Corona, Heineken, Budweiser, Absolute, Bacardi, etc cheaper than in the states. There are many others, but the Chinese beer is significantly cheaper (less than $3 for a six pack).
- Cigarettes: Marlboro is available along with dozens of Chinese brands. No extreme taxes here either so you can buy a pack for as low as a $1.50. (I don’t in anyway condone, just added it for informational purposes).
DIFFICULT TO FIND ITEMS
This list includes items that you are able to find in Beijing, but you may need to travel a little further to a Western store. These stores include Sam’s Club, April’s Gourmet, or Carrefour and the prices may be slightly increased to accommodate for shipping these items in. Many times these items are available and not stocked the next time. So if you find it then buy in bulk or consider bringing a personal stash from home!
FOOD– I had to hunt a little bit to get these items and I thought to save you all a few steps to find these more difficult-to-find items!
- Cheese: Mozzarella, Cheddar, Gouda, Parmesan, etc! I am a huge cheese consumer and the Chinese are not. You can only find the sliced cheese in most stores, suitable only for grilled cheese or topping burgers. If you need block or shredded cheese for your dining pleasure, you will need to head over to Carrefour or April’s Gourmet. It is roughly 40 rmb ($5.63) to get a block of cheddar, which isn’t expensive by US standards but pretty eye-brow raising here.
- Mexican food items: Being from Arizona, this just breaks my heart. You can find these items when they are in stock rarely. So when you find them, BUY THEM! Tortillas and salsa can be found at April’s Gourmet, but the portions are tiny. I mean, they only carry 6-packs of the tortillas. You can sometimes also find sour cream, but I have only been able to find it once!
- Mac N’ Cheese: While you won’t find Kraft, you can sometimes find the noodles and Ragu liquid cheese seperately. I have also found some of the generic brands of the box Mac at April’s. But if you have kiddos that live off the stuff, you may want to bring a stash for rainy days.
- Pancake mix: We have been able to find the pre-made mix and added things like chocolate chips or dried cranberries to follow Western recipes. April’s Gourmet ya’ll! Maple syrup too!
- Any baking ingredients: Any baking soda, food dye, etc can be found at April’s Gourmet. Especially around Christmas, I needed to get these items to make my family feel at home away from home.
- Canned foods: Because the Chinese aren’t fans of canned foods, things like kidney beans, canned tomatoes, black beans, etc are hard to find. Carrefour has really helped here and we have even been able to make chili a few times!
- Popcorn: This one almost kills me! China is a fan of sweet popcorn and that can be found everywhere. Butter or salted popcorn on the other hand, is a little more of a scavenger hunt. I practically died when my neighborhood corner store had Texas popcorn for an extremely limited time. Otherwise, I have to trek to April Gourmet’s for microwave popcorn.
- Beef products: Of course you can find beef in any grocery stores, but to find quality steaks or never-frozen ground beef is a challenge. Sam’s Club is the place to go for these items. I did discover a month ago that I could ask grocery stores to grind the meat (usually they only grind pork) and they would. But they did it very quickly so I am sure there was a little cross-contamination going on.
Toiletries– These items can be found in Beijing, but with extreme difficulty. So much so, that you may want to pack a few extras in your bag before you travel here!
- Deodorant: This is not something common here. Not to say that the Chinese stink! In fact, most are less prone to body odor and don’t need it. I am particular about my deodorant and selection here is small, so we brought enough sticks for the whole family.
- Makeup: While you can find plenty of makeup in China, many brands include whiteners. Some major brands are here but are a little more expensive. I didn’t want to mess with all that, so I brought my own.
- Lotions: Same thing as makeup, a lot of lotions have whiteners. Trust me, you will need those lotions to cure your dry skin in the wintertime. If you have eczema or other skin conditions, prepare for that!
- Sunscreen: I have seen sunscreen only once and I didn’t purchase because I wasn’t sure about whiteners. Since we have traveled a lot and are not in the habit of carrying a parasol, we brought a few bottles with us.
- Tampons: While sanitary napkins/pads are easy to find, tampons are not common in Beijing. I have only found them twice in big box stores and they were expensive for the quantity given. I am talking 7 tampons at $1 per tamp. Do yourself a favor, plan ahead!
Clothing– In some cases, I am glad we brought some clothing from home! You can find everything here, but not always in your size. If you differ from the traditional Chinese body-type, you are going to run across some difficulty.
- Swimsuits: One-piece women’s suits are fairly common and I just don’t have the body for that. From the men’s point-of-view, speedos are more common here. You can still find the options you are familiar with, but it is a bit more difficult if not using online shopping.
- Large shoes: My husband has large feet (size 11.5) and we struggle to find him some shoes, so I am relieved we packed 7 different pairs of shoes for him. On my side, I have had some struggles finding the equivalent of women’s 10.5 here. There are fewer options for shoes in those sizes and I have had to make compromises. Also, be prepared for very different women’s fashion when it comes to shoes.
- Undergarments: Big boobs beware! Not easy to find those larger bras sizes in China. Same goes for Spanx, think ahead!
Household Items– If I had known about these ahead of time, I might have considering bringing some of these items with me!
- Oven mitts: Because ovens are not common, I didn’t think I would need oven mitts. Since I bought a toaster oven, I have been in dire need of this because I only bought one from IKEA. They have been out since I went last time.
- Can opener: As I mentioned before, canned foods aren’t common. So why need a can opener? Well we finally got our hands on some of those harder to get canned items…and couldn’t open it. Yes, seriously. We finally found a specialty shop in Sanlitun and bought an electric can opener for $30. Yes, I should have brought a regular hand-held from home for $2.
- Vegetable peeler: I saw them at that same specialty store. After a $30 can opener though, I couldn’t bring myself to buy it.
- Dinner plates: Finding traditional large, flat dinner plates like you would find in the west was harder than I thought. I finally found them at IKEA with help from a friend.
- Trash cans: Ok, this one sounds crazy but here it goes. Tiny, bathroom-sized trash cans are the norm in China. I can’t live like that, taking out the trash every 3 hours. I eventually found a normal size (2.5 feet tall) at IKEA and every Chinese person that comes into my house is appalled lol. The trash bags were easier to find, I simply use the ones meant for the outdoors.
- Fitted sheets: While I have found them at Walmart, but fitted sheets are not so easy to come by here. The Chinese prefer the regular sheet that comes off the mattress every night. I originally brought two of my own but the bed sizes between China and America are not the same. If you find them in your size, buy them!
- Ceramic casserole dish: This took me a while, but I needed a dish to use in my new toaster oven. Ceramic casserole dishes are available, but hard to find. I needed to go to an underground wet market to find them.
- Aluminum foil: Same thing with the foil, I only found it in an underground wet market.
Miscellaneous– Things I couldn’t fit under the other lists!
- English books: I work at a school with a huge library, so finding books to read isn’t so difficult. However, those coming to Beijing may have some trouble finding anything other than the classics. I would consider buying a kindle or something to help you out. There is a great English comic/anime book store in Sanlitun though! English reading for preschool-aged kids is extremely easy and you don’t need to worry about that.
- Plug adapters/converters: I bought way too many plug adapters, but have had trouble finding some here. I would buy at least one that gives you 2 outlets and 2 USB ports.
- Medicines: Save yourself the trouble and bring anything you typically use in the course of a year like allergy medications, motion sickness, upset tummy, etc. It is just hard to be able to find everything with English labels. Also, a thermometer if you don’t want it in Celsius!
- Holiday items: If you have kids, you may want to bring a few of the more significant holiday items! Christmas and Halloween items are available but severely limited. We brought our stockings and a Christmas cooking book.
- HDMI cable: It took us a few months to find a HDMI cable to plug in our computers into the TV, which made family time difficult. We finally found a 6 ft one for $20 at the Lenovo store and rejoiced!
IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND ITEMS
Luckily, this list is very short. I am sure these items can be found online, but these are practically impossible when searching the stores of Beijing.
Food– Saddest list yet. I have been unable to find these items in my 10 months in Beijing!
- Seasonings: No taco seasoning! Luckily, our international friends have had extra and we have made it this long. I also wish we had brought more dry rub seasonings! Consider bringing some if you are accustomed to cooking.
- Grape or Raspberry Jelly: THIS HAS ABSOLUTELY KILLED ME! No grape jelly?? Are you kidding?? They have EVERY other jam/jelly flavor possible. I have seen strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, mango, peach, apple, mixed berry, etc. I don’t know what it is but I am calling foul!
- Candy: Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. You can find chocolate and peanut butter, just not together.
- Frozen pizza: Haven’t been able to make pizza at home once. The amount of frozen meals here goes down significantly and pizza was one of the casualties of war. UPDATE: Found a limited selection at Aprils’s!
- Campbells Soup: I have not found any of my familiar canned soups! No chicken noodle, tomato, creamy mushroom, etc. I am still looking though, I will not give up!
Household Items– I am still looking, hopefully I will be able to find these!
- Baking tins: Because baking is not common in China, I can not find some of the most basic supplies. This includes cake and muffin tins, baking pans, etc. I am hoping that there will be some specialty store in Sanlitun but no luck so far!
- Tape dispenser: This sounds a little much, but I use tape for a lot of things. I can find the rolls of tape, but a dispenser has been impossible. I haven’t been able to get one at my school either. I finally bought one in Cambodia while we were there because I was frustrated by it enough.
- DVDs- English DVDs are not needed often, especially with platforms like Netflix and Hulu. However, it has happened when we were unable to view those websites and I have not found Western, English-speaking movies here on DVD . Luckily, we were sure to bring a whole case of English DVDs for times like this. Make sure you are able to bring a DVD player though, because the ones here may not work. We bought a computer with DVD capability for $250 and use that.
Not having some of these items may sound like first-world problems, but living abroad may me realize how homesick an expat can get. Knowing that there are still some familiar foods or convenience that can help make you feel at home can go along way. If you plan on moving to Beijing and worried about finding certain items, comment below or press the ‘contact us’ button and I can see if I am able to find it before you move here!