When I was preparing to come to China from America, a friend from the UK told me that most likely all the ‘must have things' I was taking with me, I would not use. These were things like the Grayl Filtered Water Bottle (which by the way is amazing), and a multi-plug/USB extension adapter (also fan-freakin-tastic), and multiple sets of outlet adapters (which make sense, but…). I couldn't believe him! Well, truth be told, he was spot on! However, here is my short list of the top 10 most important things you should have while living and working in China.
1. A Skype phone number. So my family and friends can phone me using a US phone number. Keeping in touch with people is important to me. I wanted to always have a means for my kids and my parents and extended family to reach me easily. Skype offers a service where you can purchase a number in the country, state/province, city of your choice. And with this you can also choose voicemail, call forwarding, and the number of phone numbers you want is not limited. I have the calls forwarded to my Chinese cell phone number and I never miss a call!
2. A good, reusable, refillable, and sturdy water bottle! The tap water here in China is not drinkable, so you must either buy water to drink or use a reusable water bottle. There are so many people here in China that the waste of plastic water bottles is disturbing! So for me, I opt to use a refillable water bottle. Everywhere you go, literally, there is clean, hot water available for drinking from designated dispenser areas.
3. A reliable VPN (Virtual Private Network). This is important for us foreigners who want to stay in touch with friends and family on various social networks, or to view movies/television series from various sources. I have tried a couple and to me, the best option for a reasonable price is ExpressVPN. There are free VPNs, but this paid option has yet to fail me. I can even use it on multiple devices like my phone, my laptop, and my tablet.
4. A Chinese bank account. This is a must-have in China. The good news is EF will help you set up your bank account when arriving in China. Having the bank card is useful to connect on APPs, which allows you to order pretty much anything online! From food delivery to online shopping and travel reservations; China is extremely mobile-payment friendly. You'll want to connect your Chinese bank card to your phone ASAP. The most popular payment platform options are Alipay and WeChat Wallet.
5. Any translation APP. Speaking of APPs (yes, spoken like an acronym which is how the Chinese say it, not “apps” but “A.P.P.s”). I find I use a translation APP often and one that can photograph and instantly translate a menu is a must! Other APPs you will want to acquire: WeChat, AliPay, Didi (taxi/car service), Meituan (food order and delivery from both restaurants and markets), just to name a few.
6. A rice cooker. Yes, I've acquired more things for my kitchen, but a definite must-have as a first buy is a rice cooker! You can cook most anything in a rice cooker, hot pot (soup), noodles, beans, oatmeal, and even cake!
7. An e-bike. Yep, I got one and I love it! The e-bike lets you get round your city with ease, which lets you see more of the surrounding area, and in turn, helps you feel more connected! Also, purchasing some tie-downs or bungee cords allows you to go the market with your bike and bring more back to your apartment! Purchasing an e-bike doesn't have to break the bank or wreak havoc on your budget either. Be a savvy shopper and find one second-hand for around ¥1,000 (about $150 USD)!
8. A neti-pot. What the heck is a neti-pot? It is a simple device that you use to cleanse your sinuses! The air in most Chinese cities is rather dirty and this natural way of cleansing and clearing sinuses has been a real blessing for me keeping my head clear and my throat healthy!
9. My laptop! I use my phone often, and having access to the required APPs on my phone, and the camera for mobile photography is a must for me. My laptop, however, is my lifeline to people and things outside of China! I'd be lost and a bit lonely without my laptop!
10. Travel packets of tissue. Yes siree, you need these in your pockets here in China. There are rarely, if ever, napkins on tables in restaurants or paper in the bathrooms (stalls and for drying hands). Highly advise having these at the ready for your comfort and convenience - don't be caught without them!
This short list of must-haves for me really eased my transition to this new country for me. I have since acquired more things, but this list is the bare-bones necessities.